Good communication is important in any job, but when you’re working high above ground, it can be a matter of life or death. Before you head “up tower,” here are the keys to effective tower-climbing communication.
BABY TALK. I like to tell students to speak “baby talk”—tell your working partner everything you’re going to do before you do it. Accidentally knocking someone in the nose with your elbow on the ground might hurt. On a tower, it could lead to a serious accident. Slow down and take time to talk through what you’re going to do.
HAND SIGNALS. Communicating with the ground crew is vital to safe tower work. On a calm day at a quiet site or on shorter towers, shouting and hand signals get the job done. Before you head up the tower, review your signals with your ground crew, so there’s no confusion. Good hand signals are simple and easily recognizable. For instance, a common signal for “stop” is to hold your arm straight out with a clenched fist. At noisy sites or on high towers, radios may become necessary, since it can be difficult to communicate by voice or hand signals.
WALKIE-TALKIES. As a backup to hand signals, most climbers also carry a walkie-talkie or voice-activated radio. These can ease strained voices and strained relations with the ground crew. Shouting from the top of a 150-foot tower can be difficult, especially if the ground crew is engaged with other tasks, or if there is other noise. Often I’ll leave my radio in my pocket unless I need to give detailed instructions. That way I can hear my ground crew talking to me and answer with a shout or hand signal—without having to interrupt my work to dig out the radio. Sometimes wind noise makes radio communication difficult, so it’s important to know hand signals as a backup.
CELL PHONES. Having a cell phone on a tower can really save time and trouble. Many times I’ve talked with a turbine manufacturer or a colleague from the tower top when I had a problem and needed advice. An earpiece allows me to start the call, put my phone away, and keep both hands free to do work. A hand strap on your radios or cell-phone case may keep them from taking a dive. Voice-activated radios with headsets are a possible option in the right situation.