Whenever operating equipment such as industrial or heavy equipment, being able to clearly communicate with co-workers or other people at a job site is essential for everyone’s safety. Due to the noise common when operating many types of equipment, OSHA has added to crane operator requirements the ability to understand and communicate with certain hand and verbal signals; workers are even beginning to be qualified for this job to help keep communication open between equipment operators and anyone observing the work without being a direct part of the actual machine operations.
Even in the best of environments, listening for cautions and warnings is not always possible. On a noisy industrial jobsite, there is little chance that a worker’s voice would be heard over noise generated by the equipment or truck itself. In such situations, the best way to communicate clearly has always been with hand gestures and OSHA is working to increase all crane operator awareness to such signals and meanings.
When operating many commercial heavy-duty vehicles, all it takes is a fraction of a second for something to go wrong, which means there should always be spotters and other trained personnel watching work progress, ready to stop it should a problem develop. The most reliable way to communicate with equipment or vehicle operators from a safe distance is through hand signals, which every operator should watch for and be able to interpret quickly in order to act accordingly. Through fast, precise, non-verbal communication between signal person and operator, accidents damaging the vehicle or the job site can be avoided – which is the main goal.
Qualifying As a Signal Person
Since equipment operators, workers, and other personnel will be depending on the signal person to be observing the work and ready to relay warnings quickly and accurately, candidates for this job must meet the following:
- Understand Crane Operations – Before a signal person can work effectively, it is important to understand how cranes and knuckleboom trucks operate, any limitations, and typical use or maneuvers that could be dangerous. This person will only be able to provide correct directions to operators by understanding ahead of time how the vehicle is likely to react or must be operated to prevent problems.
- Know Standardized Hand Gestures – Every qualified worker must know and explicitly understand all standardized signals and be able to accurately display them in all situations. Although some companies may continue to use localized hand gestures, this is being discouraged by OSHA as emphasis is being made for all companies to adopt standardized gestures for personnel training and qualification.
- Know Voice Signals and Usage – There are also verbal cautions related to the different hand signals, even though most of the time voices cannot be heard. In any situations where verbal warnings can be used, it must be done in certain ways, in certain tones, etc.. to be recognized. Knowledge of correct verbal warnings is an important part of passing the certification exam.
- Understand Routine and Special Assignment Zones – The primary job of a signal worker is to oversee and assist during routine equipment use. Certified workers must also be capable of overseeing and evaluating special lifting situations, such as relaying information between such workers, lifting in prohibited areas, and any lifts that involve raising workers to a higher level.
- Reaction and The Breakdown of Correct Communications – If communication through gestures has somehow broken down, qualified signal workers should be able to quickly determine options to regain control of the situation and be able to use such options. It is essential to be able to prevent accident or injury in spite of any glitches in communications.
Although most of this seems to be common sense, a thorough understanding of hand gestures on the job site is essential because of the precise and specific language spoken between signal persons and team members. Extensive knowledge of communications must be known and used when working with equipment such as knuckleboom trucks in order to keep things moving as safely as possible!