Understanding Crane Operator Hand Signals

A Guide to Hand Signals for Mobile, Overhead, Gantry and Tower Cranes

Crane Systems | By Christie Lagowski | Aug 03, 2020

When working as a crane operator in a facility or at a job site, especially those with lots of traffic, it is crucial to understand and use crane operator hand signals. As required by OSHA 1926.1400 Cranes and Derricks, these individuals, or signal persons, must know all signals for mobile, tower and overhead cranes and must have a basic understanding of crane operation.

Charts identifying these hand signals must be posted on equipment or noticeably near hoisting operations. If modifications are made to any signals, they must be agreed upon by the crane operator, lift director and signal person and cannot conflict with the standard signals.

Crane Operator Hand Signals Download


Identifying the Signal Person

The lift director at the job site has to appoint a qualified signal person before the lift. During crane operation, only one person can give signals, unless it’s for an emergency stop – then anyone on the job site can give the signal. Once the qualified signal person is identified, the signal person and the crane operator must identify each other prior to giving any signals.


Signaling the Crane Operator During the Lift

During crane operation, signals should be continuous. If at any time a signal is not understood, is not clear, is disrupted or is not audible, the crane operator must stop movement and not give a response.
When giving signals, all signs should be from the operator’s perspective. So, for example, to designate swing left, the signal person would extend their right arm so the operator would swing left.

In addition to hand signals, voice signals can be used. Voice signals must have three elements:

  • Direction or function
  • Speed or distance
  • Stop command of prior function

For example, a voice command may go something like: “Hoist 10 feet, 20 feet, 30 feet Stop! Swing right 90 degrees, slowly, slowly, Stop! Lower 10 feet, 20 feet, 30 feet Stop!

It’s important to note that when communicating with more than one crane, a procedure or system must be used to identify which crane that the signal is for. This helps avoid confusion on the part of the crane operator, allowing them to easily identify which crane should respond.


Moving the Crane

When the operator moves the crane into position, the following horn or audible sounds shall be used:

  • Stop: One short audible signal
  • Go Ahead: Two short audible signals
  • Back Up: Three short audible signals

These sounds are required to ensure that those not directly involved in controlling or working with the crane are aware of the crane’s movement in the job site.


Crane Operator Hand Signals Download

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Christie Lagowski

Christie Lagowski is a Communications Manager at Columbus McKinnon Corporation. She has 6 years of experience marketing hoists and rigging products as well as crane systems and components. Christie has marketed a variety of industrial products, ranging from lifting solutions to glass technology as well as health and safety products.

Christie Lagowski Author