An Introduction to Crane Hand Signals

People have used their hands as an effective form of communication for centuries. When the crane was invented, it was a modern wonder. Large objects and materials could now easily be lifted and moved around construction job sites with ease. However, accidents could occur because the operator did not always have a clear view of everything around them.

The operator could not see if someone entered the work area where they were lifting materials. Nor could they always determine clearances and potential obstructions when lifting, moving, and lowering a load.

To resolve this problem and help reduce the risk of accidents, crane hand signals were created . Both the crane operator and a signaler on the ground learned the signals to communicate the desired intentions to lift and move materials.

What purpose do crane hand signals serve?

The primary purpose of hand signals is to direct and control the operation of a crane. Based on the placement of the arm(s) and movement of the hand(s) by the signaler, it tells the crane operator what actions they are to take, such as:

  • Extend the Boom
  • Retract the Boom
  • Lower the Load
  • Raise the Boom
  • Stop
  • Raise the Load
  • Lower the Boom
  • Swing the Boom

Keep in mind, this is just a short list of the many different types of crane operation hand signals. There are basic signals as well as specific signals for cranes used with locomotive cranes, crawler cranes, truck cranes, and so on.

How are crane hand signals helpful?

From the construction and building industry to the supply chain and cargo transport industries, cranes are used in many different types of environments and industries. Job sites tend to be very busy and active places with people all performing different tasks and functions simultaneously.

In addition, these environments can be rather noisy because of everything that is going on. This can make communicating verbally with the crane operator rather difficult because the signaler cannot just require everyone to stop what they are doing and be quiet.

The use of nonverbal hand signals resolves this problem. The signaler can let the crane operator know what function to perform. Furthermore, the operator sees the signals at the speed of light, compared to the speed of sound for verbal communications. This means hand signals can be transmitted much faster for continuous operations from the time the load is lifted off the ground until it is put back down in the desired location.

Why not just tell the crane operator what you want done?

You might be thinking, “Wouldn’t it be just as easy to tell the crane operator what you wanted done with the load and let him go to it”? Communicating your intentions ahead of time is always a good idea to give the operator an idea of what you want done with the load, how you want it moved, and where you want it moved to.

However, there can be unanticipated and unexpected things that could occur during the operation of the crane. For instance, even though the job site has been cleared of workers in the area where crane operations will be taking place, a delivery driver could walk into the area looking for the foreman.

How do you let the crane operator know to pause or stop operations until you, the signaler, can secure the location once more? Yelling over loud construction equipment is not effective. This is why crane operation hand signals are vital . Crane signalers can convey changes in the work environment easily and quickly if adjustments are needed.

Why not just use radios or smartphones to communicate instead of hand signals?

The use of radios and smartphones are a good way to communicate and can be used for certain types of crane operations. However, before they are put into use, they do need to be tested to determine their effectiveness. Additionally, they should not be used as the primary method to communicate between the signaler and the crane operator.

You will still need to use and rely on hand signals for crane operations for several reasons, even if using radios or smartphones to communicate, as follows:

  • The level of background noise can carry over radios and smartphones, so the crane operator still may not be able to hear what you are saying.
  • There can be interference that causes radio and smartphone communications to sound staticky.
  • There can be “dead zones” on job sites where cellular communications will drop calls and not work.
  • It takes the crane operator longer to respond to a verbal command, as they have to hear what you are saying, then respond.

With nonverbal hand signals, the crane operator doesn’t have to get clarification if they could not hear what you said or worry about any of the issues mentioned above.

What basic crane hand signals should operators and signalers know?

While it might seem there are numerous hand signals to learn, there are only between four and six basic signals that can be very effective at controlling the movements the crane operator makes.

Whether you rent a crane, have one you own, or rely upon a qualified and licensed contractor to provide crane operation services, everyone that has anything to do with the crane’s operations should at least know these signals:

  1. Lower the Boom: Extend the arm horizontally, with a closed fist and thumb pointing downwards.
  2. Raise the Load: Arm bent and with the forefinger pointing upwards while rotating the finger in horizontal circles.
  3. Swing the Boom: Extend the arm horizontally and point in the direction the boom is to be moved. For up or down, use the thumb and point it upwards or downwards; otherwise, use the forefinger for all other directions.
  4. Raise the Boom: Extend the arm horizontally, with a closed fist and thumb pointing upwards.
  5. Lower the Load: Arm bent slightly downwards, with the forefinger pointing downwards, while rotating the finger in horizontal circles.
  6. Stop: Arm extended horizontally, with hand extended and the palm facing downwards and the other arm at one’s side.

Please remember, these are just some basic hand signals, and there are others you will want to learn depending on the complexity of the load to be lifted and moved, the type of crane in use, and other such factors.

Crane Operations Jobsite Safety Tips

The signaler is essentially the eyes and ears of the crane operator. They should be standing in a location where they have a clear line of sight with the operator, the load, and the area where it is to be moved. The operator cannot see when there are obstructions like a wall in the way.

The signaler also must be aware and should have previously discussed the path of movement that will be used to move the load with the operator. This helps ensure the load is lifted and moved correctly. Remember, the hand signals given tell the operator how to move the load in regards to the crane’s operations.

The crane operator should only engage movements as the signaler directs. If the operator cannot clearly see the signaler, a signal has not been given, or cannot determine what signal is being conveyed, then the operator should suspend movements immediately.

Signalers need to verify they can easily see the operator. As long as the operator and signaler can make eye contact, then that means they can see one another. However, the signaler also needs to take into consideration the direction of the sun and/or nighttime work lights that can make it difficult for the operator to see the signaler.

The signaler needs to be aware of any job site obstructions that could affect the operator’s visibility, like walls, columns, support beams, and so on. It is not unheard of for the signaler to be able to see the operator, signal a movement, yet the arm is blocked from view by some type of obstruction.

As you can see, maintaining a safe job site and the safe movement of materials and loads while using a crane requires being able to effectively use and decipher hand signals for cranes. For crane sales and rentals, support equipment, load charts, 3D lift planning , and other services, please feel free to contact All-West Crane & Rigging Ltd. at 877.203.0069 today! Our products and services are available throughout British Columbia and Alberta.