Safely Lifting Materials: Rigging and Signaling

No matter what services you perform on a job site, you are bound to need to lift something.  There are multiple ways to lift materials and equipment.  One of those ways is using chains, wire rope, or straps to lift the equipment/materials with a crane or piece of equipment.  Let’s discuss how to get this task done safely. 

Preparing a load for lifting requires it to be rigged.  All personnel performing this work shall be trained in rigging practices.  The most popular rigging equipment are chains, wire rope, and nylon/polyester slings.  Each type of equipment has its advantages and disadvantages, but it must be thoroughly inspected before use.  The rigger checks the piece of equipment for any signs of wear and damage.  If there’s any doubt on the condition of the chain, wire rope, or sling, it needs to be replaced.  The rigger chooses the equipment based on the environment it will be used, the method of rigging, and the weight of the object that will be lifted.

Once the material or equipment that will be lifted is properly rigged, the next question would be if a tag line is required.  A tag line is typically a rope attached to the lifted load to stabilize it during the material handling operation.  Whether or not OSHA requires it depends; however, we all strive for best practices, and that would always be to use a tagline.  The tag line allows someone to help control the load and adjust its orientation from a distance.  OSHA’s stance on when a tag line is required whenever the rotation of the load would be hazardous.

The tag line does not need to be held the entire time of the lift.  The purpose is to help control the load and its orientation.  That can be accomplished when the load is first lifted off the ground and then when it’s coming into land in its location.  When the load is lifted, and the operator (crane or equipment) cannot visibly see the load for the duration of the lift, then a signal person must be used.

Before lifting the load, the operator and signal person must agree on the method of signaling to be used and the meaning of the gestures.  There are some standard hand signals and phrases; however, you always want to review them before the lift with the operator.  Even if radios are used for communicating between the signal person and the operator, always be prepared to use hand signals due to possible radio interference or malfunction.

Only the necessary people to rig a lift and get it lifted into the air shall be in the area whenever a lift is conducted—the fewer obstacles to contend with, the better for the operator.  Various other rigging accessories can be used in conjunction with the chains, wire ropes, and slings mentioned here, and they all need to undergo the same pre-use inspection.  There shall never be anyone underneath a lifted load for any reason.  Open communication and proper pre-planning are vital in keeping the area clear of unnecessary personnel, using the appropriate equipment, and maintaining a clear path around and beneath the load at all times.

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