I find it amazing how many ways a person can interpret something as simple as “Take this, and put it over there”. Getting your point across accurately and briefly can be surprisingly difficult, even face to face. Now, add into the mix, you are 100′ apart during a noisy load in.
Communication amongst your crew is critical, and you should develop a protocol. Sometimes we have radios provided, this makes the job much easier, but still not fool proof. Often the radios are low quality and/or we are not provided enough channels to separate teams. When you are provided radios, it is important to practice good radio etiquette. When someone speaks to you on the radio, it is important to respond. It can be very frustrating giving instructions into the radio, not knowing if the person on the other side is receiving. Either give a quick “copy” into the radio or, if your hands are busy, a simple call down usually works. It is also important to be as brief as possible on the radio, there is often someone else using the same channel, sometimes needing to give a timely instruction.
I find the most useful tool in communicating to be very simple, but often overlooked, PAY ATTENTION! If you are watching the people above you, and the people in the air are watching their ground person, radio communication will be minimal. Learn and use hand signals, I like to tie on a rope and simply, hold out my hand, with a little belly in the rope. The up rigger should see this as a sign to float that leg to apex(waving your hand in a large circular motion is also common). How does he know he is at apex from 100′ away, because you tell him with a large sideways wave of your arm. This is a universal symbol to stop, whether you are pulling a point on the in or letting one in on the load out, you should be watching your ground rigger for that stop signal. Whatever hand signals you decide on, don’t try to be subtle, up riggers usually need to see large movements from far away. Once one leg is at apex, you can tie on and float the other leg if you are sending out a bridle, again, the up riggers need to be looking down and watching the ground rigger as the wire rope and connections pass through their hand, go slow as they check every connection, once the hoist hook is past the ground riggers face, take it away. This is especially important if you use pulley systems in your house, just because you have eight guys on a rope, does not mean the point should fly out once there is a knot tied into the basket, you have to watch the ground and go slow until the hook is clear.
A good team of up riggers will not need to be told where to go point by point, you should be able to read the floor from the steel in most instances, when things are iffy, ask for a laser. If a point is not hitting the mark, you shouldn’t need to be told to slide it, you should be doing your best to spot the point from the beam. As a ground man, you can mostly lead your crew with few words, put your laser, or stand on the next point. If it’s a bridle you can communicate this by holding two hands up like a “Y”, if a deadhang, just hold up one hand. Keep an eye up, you may need to breast something out of the way, you may see something the up guy isn’t seeing. Just because you are not physically doing something doesn’t mean you can be inattentive. If you can’t work and talk to your buddy, then don’t talk to your buddy. Keep one step ahead of the up team, if they see you laying out the next bridle they will know right where to go.
On load outs especially, radio communication should be almost nil, but you have to pay attention. I can’t stand seeing ground guys standing there holding a chain with no one anyone near breaking it. Or up guys tying into points that are not landed when there are motors in boxes. Again, pay attention to what will be coming in next, watch for ropes hanging, keep an eye on what area the up riggers are and conversely the up teams need to watch what the ground riggers are landing first. The most common mistake a see on load outs is bridles coming in unevenly making it very tough for the ground person to control, if you see your leg going slack and getting out of the ground persons control, you need to slow down and match your partner. If you need to stop for some reason, make sure you communicate to your partner to stop, otherwise the chain will move horizontally on the floor creating a hazard. If your chain is whipping all over the place, either on the in or the out, you need to match your partner better.
You will find that if you practice all of these techniques, or develop your own communication protocol. You will be much better prepared for the times you are not provided radios and you will be able to keep the shouting to a minimum.