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Hand signals for cranes

Written by Steve Stephenson April 2013

OSHA Best Practices Guide
OSHA Safety Signs Best Practices Guides

Crane operators are not always able to see the load they are lifting. Neither do they have a complete view of the path the load will follow, nor the location where the load will be placed. A signal person serves as the eyes of the crane operator. Using standard hand signals for cranes, the signal person directs the crane operator in moving the load. It's the signal person's job to ensure the load is moved safety to the location where it needs to be placed. It is also the responsibility of the signal person to ensure the area around the crane is safe, that a load is never moved such that it is above people, and, should the crane need to be moved, that it is moved safely.

OSHA Requirements for Hand Signals for Cranes

OSHA requires that, should any of the following conditions exist, a signal person be used to guide the operation of a crane:

  • The point of operation, meaning the load travel path or the area near or at the load placement location, is not within the full view of the operator.
  • When the crane is traveling and the operator's view in the direction of travel is obstructed. A live video system, set up such that the crane operator can see everything needed to operate the equipment safely, meets the requirement for ‘‘full view of the operator.’’ However, OSHA has determined that mirrors do not meet the “full view” requirement because they typically distort images or distances.
  • When there are site specific safety concerns. Should either the crane operator, or the person handling the load, determine that for safe operation of the crane it is necessary to have a signal person.

The OSHA standards covering the use of signals used to direct crane operators are 1926.1419 through 1926.1422, and 1926.1431.

The 1926.1419 standard requires that signals to crane operators be by hand, voice, audible, or new signals. The signals used, and the means of transmitting those signals to the crane operator (such as direct line of sight, video, radio, etc.), must be appropriate for the site conditions. For example, hand signals are not suitable if site conditions do not allow the crane operator to always see the signal person. Radio signals are not be suitable when electronic interference on the site prevents radio transmissions from being clearly understood.

Causes of Fatalities during Hoisting


Struck by load (other than boom/cable failure)


Electrocution (contacting overhead wires)


Crushed during crane assembly/disassembly


Failure of boom/cable


Crane tip-over


Struck by cab/counterweight




OSHA Standard Hand Signals for Cranes

When using hand signals for cranes, the "Standard Method" of hand signals must be used. The Standard Method is defined by OSHA in Appendix A to subpart CC of the 1926 standard. The OSHA Standard Method for hand signals for cranes is the same hand signaling method as given in ANSI B30.5-1968 and ASME B30.5-2004.

Non-Standard Hand Signals for Cranes

The construction industry has long recognized the need for consistent, standard hand signals for cranes to minimize the potential for miscommunication. However, there are circumstances when the OSHA standard hand signals do not provide a way to communicate everything needed for the work being done. In such instances, OSHA allows non-standard signals to be used. To avoid confusion when non-standard signals are used, paragraph1926.1419(c)(2) requires that the signal person, crane operator, and lift director (when there is one) meet prior to the operation to agree upon the non-standard signals that will be used.

Circumstances when non-standard hand signals might be used would be times when the standard hand signals aren't feasible, or where an operation, or the use of a crane attachment, is not covered in the Standard Method. For example, should the background lighting behind the signal person result in insufficient contrast between the signal person's hand and the sky color, the operator would be prevented from being able to clearly see the signal person's hand and fingers.

Only One Person Provides Signals to the Crane Operator

OSHA requires that only one person at a time give signals to the operator. This prevents confusion about which signals the operator is supposed to follow. When multiple signal persons are needed, a system for passing the responsibility for signaling should be established in advance.

An exception to the "one signal person" rule is given in 1926.1419(j). When somebody becomes aware of a safety problem and gives an emergency stop signal, the crane operator must obey that signal without regard to who is giving the signal.

Hand Signals for Cranes - Posting Charts

OSHA standard 1926.1422 requires that hand signal charts be posted on the equipment or be conspicuously posted in the vicinity of the hoisting operations. The purpose is ensure complete familiarity with the standard hand signals for cranes, and thus to avoid miscommunication.

Hand Signals for Cranes - The Signal person

If at any time the crane operator is not able to see the signal person, or clearly understand the hand signals, the crane operator must safely stop crane operations that require signals until they have reestablished communication and a proper signal is given and understood.

The signal persons should stand with their hands away from their body, so they can be clearly seen. They need to be fully trained on the operation of the crane so they are aware of what the crane can do and how it works. They should never give signals faster than can be performed.

If the crane operator becomes aware of a safety problem and needs to communicate with the signal person, he or she must safely stop operations. The operations may not resume until the crane operator and signal person agree that the problem has been resolved.

Directions given by the signal person must be given from the crane operator's direction perspective.

Communication with Multiple Cranes or Derricks

Where a signal person is providing directions to more than one crane, a system for identifying the crane to receive the signal must be established in advance. Prior to giving each signal, the signal person must identify the crane the signal is intended to control.

Labels and signs are a static means of communication. They deliver safety information that does not change. For example, signs should be posted to warn people to stay out of the area in which a crane is working. Signs are also used to inform all workers about the hand signal that communicates "emergency stop" to crane operators. However, every jobsite is different. Having the ability to make signs and labels that directly communicate information specific to the crane, the location, and the job site improves safety as well as improves productivity. The label printer that can do this for you is a DuraLabel custom label and sign printer.

The information presented in this document was obtained from sources that we deem reliable; Graphic Products does not guarantee accuracy or completeness. Graphic Products, Inc. makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied. Users of this document should consult municipal, state, and federal code and/or verify all information with the appropriate regulatory agency.

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