Crane Safety: Saving Lives With Wireless Headsets


“Left, left, left!” was all that Bill Kerwin remembered hearing as he ran to escape a rolling crane on a routine tree removal job in southern Maryland. Kerwin credits those warning shouts, heard over Sonetics wireless headsets, for saving two lives and improving crane safety.

“Everyone had the headsets on,” Kerwin said. His Sonetics Wireless Team Communication System lets the crew of Kerwin Tree Service talk hands-free, much like a conference call, while they continue working. The headsets also protect workers’ hearing from the noise of the crane, chipper and saws. “Now our entire crew can communicate during crane operations,” said Kerwin.

Spring-loaded job site

“It was a standard day,” Kerwin said, until the last lift when the crane began swinging a 3,500-pound log over the customer’s home. Partway through the lift, one of the truck’s outriggers began to sink. Unknown to Kerwin, the crane had been parked over an underground spring. A day’s worth of heavy lifting had further weakened the soil, contributing to the incident.

“I heard yelling on the headsets as the crane started to go,” Kerwin said. But rather than abandon the tilting truck, Kerwin stayed on board. “Once I knew [it] was going, I swung [the boom] hard left to do everything in my power to miss the customer’s house.” Taking those extra few seconds to spare the structure put his life in danger.

By this time, Kerwin estimated he had ridden the collapsing crane to nearly 80 degrees. As soon as he was sure that the log would clear the home, Kerwin finally jumped out of the crane’s cab. “Once I [was on the ground], I began to run to what I thought was a safe area.”

No safe harbor

It wasn’t safe. Kerwin was running toward the chipper and its operator, but they, too, were directly beneath the collapsing crane’s boom. “The man in the bucket truck was screaming ‘Left! Left…run left!’” said Kerwin. “If I hadn’t had the headset on, I wouldn’t have heard him.”

Kerwin and the chipper operator both immediately turned left and ran. “We had only three or four seconds before the boom was going to hit.” The two sprinted away just as “[it] came crashing down exactly where I thought was a safe place to run,” Kerwin said. “Someone could have really gotten hurt.”

Fortunately, no one on Kerwin’s crew was injured. “The boom missed the chipper by about four feet,” said Kerwin. Not to mention Kerwin and his chipper operator. The crane truck, however, was a total loss. “The recovery company had to torch the boom off the truck before it could be carted away. Their crane specialist told me, ‘I can’t believe the crane isn’t on the house.’”

Tree care is a risky business

The tree care industry is a regular on rosters of the top ten most dangerous jobs. With the national fatal injury rate ticking up to 3.4 per 100,000 in 2014, the landscaping industry, which includes tree trimming and arborist services, experienced 162 fatalities. More than 1 in 4 of those fatalities involved being struck by objects or equipment.

In 2014, Maryland saw a five percent decrease in fatal injuries over the previous year. It was the state’s first annual decline since 2007.

Investing in crane safety

Kerwin says it was more than luck looking out for him and his chipper operator. “If it wasn’t for the clear voice over the Sonetics headsets, [we] would not be here today! I am a firm believer that investing in safety equipment with these headsets wasn’t that expensive.” Kerwin said.

With their ability to protect hearing, deliver warnings in real time, and help users remain aware of outside sound, Sonetics team wireless systems improve crane safety while they boost precision and productivity.

For more information on Sonetics products, visit our Team Wireless Systems page.

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