Lifting hands raises international understanding and safety

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By Stephen Kennedy
Published on
Ever noticed how hand signals can convey very different meanings in different parts of the world? Some can be offensive, even where no offence is intended, leading to raised fists or worse. But when a misunderstood signal could result in a serious industrial accident, the hands making it are holding lives in the balance.

ISO, the International Organization for Standardization, has published a set of universal hand signals for adoption wherever lifting operations take place in building or construction, making those operations safer and more efficient.

“It’s taken a while to get the countries involved talking the same sign language,” says South Africa’s Pierre Terblanche, leader of the international group of experts who developed ISO 16715, Cranes – Hand signals used with cranes.

They have come up with an International Standard offering crane operators a basic set of hand signals that can be clearly understood by operators from any one nation working in another. The objective was not to replace unique national signals, but to arrive at a set of uniform signs for projects involving more than one country having its own unique “cues”.

Signallers on the ground at building or construction sites use their hands to direct operators of cranes to perform specific actions, including emergency stops. Globalization of the construction industry has meant that increasing numbers of operators are working in parts of the world where signs are different from the ones they know and use at home.

Picture a building site over which massive tower cranes loom and lighter but powerful mobile cranes move. These cranes might be operated by companies based in a country or countries other than that in which the site is located. They might employ foreign workers who do not speak the local language. More importantly, the workers may not understand hand signals used locally for the safe performance of essential on-site operations.

By adopting the ISO hand signals, building and construction sites anywhere in the world can share a common language, transforming a “tower of Babel” into a place where raised hands no longer just signal bafflement or frustration.

ISO 16715 was developed by technical committee ISO/TC 96, Cranes, subcommittee SC 5, Use, operation and maintenance. The subcommittee comprises 31 national members, including countries and regions as diverse and active in construction as China, Brazil, India, Malaysia, Korea, Japan (which holds the committee secretariat), South Africa, Australia, Russia, Scandinavia, Europe and the USA.

No offence intended… and none given. From left to right: ISO’s crane hand signals for “lifting using the main hoist”, “lifting using the auxiliary boom” and “raising of boom”.


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