The Important Role that Hand Signals Play in a Crane Operation

December 13, 2019

Vintage motors once needed hand signals, plus a back-breaking engine crank. Electric lights came along, and that was the end of that short flirtation with roadway sign language. With cranes, it’s a whole other matter. It turns out that the business end of a mobile lifter is behind the operator cabin, which means tricky worksite manoeuvres can’t be easily performed, not without the aid of a capable signals person.

Hand Signals for Obstructed Viewpoints

In reality, crane drivers badly need an extra pair of eyes on a busy worksite. In all likelihood, the cabin at the front of a mobile crane simply won’t provide a 360° perspective of the area. That’s a bad enough issue on a crane rental facility, where a concrete shoulder is narrow and occupied by other heavy plant hire vehicles, but the problem is ten times worse on a construction site. From piles of bricks to stacks of reinforced steel, things are always on the move here. Importantly, protecting site resources and personnel when tight manoeuvres are the name of the game, hand signals supplement a driver’s obstructed vision.

Hand Cues Guide Delicate Boom Activities

Jockeying for position, a mobile crane finds its ideal stopping point. The terrain is stable and the boom reaches where it needs to, as described in a loading chart. Some distance away from the vehicle but in full view of the driver, hand signals are issued by a signals person who’s wearing a high-vis jacket. The crane operator pays as much attention to those instructions as he does to the movements of the descending hook and cable. Working from this second point of view, a spot that’s been chosen because it offers a clear overview of every element in a hazard-prone lift, the signals communicate directional cues and safety-relevant information. Again, this is a critically important duty, one that exists to safeguard site personnel and area structures during delicate hoisting operations.

One other point, which seems obvious as soon as it’s mentioned. Worksites are noisy places. There’s heavy equipment on the move. Hammers and drills perform their noisy actions. Rumbling machinery drowns out every worker’s conversation, so there’s little chatter taking place. Of some concern, these conditions prevent crane auxiliaries from shouting out an instruction. Even if the command was heard, it could be misinterpreted over all that clatter. If that happens, someone could get hurt. Almost as bad, the vehicle could cause a lot of expensive damage to a half-completed structure. That’s not a problem with hand signals, not as long as the auxiliary worker and crane operator stay in sight of one another.