Every contractor has two main goals at the start of a new project: to do the job right in a timely manner, and to minimize accidents by providing workers with superior safety. The chances of a dangerous accident occurring can be greatly reduced, even eliminated, just by choosing the appropriate equipment and following the safety guidelines specified. Too often, safety is sacrificed in the hands of cost. However, it is possible to specify an option that will eliminate safety dangers without breaking the bank.

Choosing the right method

To ensure that the proper hoist is being chosen for a particular task, the contractor first needs a clear idea of whether the hoist will be transporting materials or personnel. It is imperative that a passenger hoist be used whenever the transportation of people is involved. If both people and material need transporting, contractors must take into account the volume of people that need to be moved versus the volume of materials. If there is a large amount of materials and a considerably smaller group of workers, it may be in the contractor’s best interest from both a safety and budgetary standpoint to have two smaller hoists running side by side. Many people are conditioned to believe “bigger is better” when it comes to hoists, and do not always recognize that there are other more cost-effective options available to them.

In addition to determining what the hoist will be carrying, the project’s budget and the height and weight requirements should also be considered when choosing a hoist. Some lifting methods like forklifts, cranes, or rope and pulleys may well be the most suitable options for the project. However, these more traditional methods do come with limitations. Forklifts typically have a reach of only 50 to 60 feet. Cranes can be very expensive and cannot always fit into tight, hard to reach areas. Rope and pulleys run solely on manpower, and can thus slow down productivity over the course of a day.

Chris Ionta, a project manager at NER Construction in Wilmington, Mass., faced this problem and chose a platform hoist for a recent granite façade restoration.

“Safety is always a paramount concern when you’re working with materials as heavy as granite slabs,” said Ionta. “For this project, I needed a hoist light enough to set up on rooftops with a minimal amount of cribbing, and it had to be motorized to provide workers with a stable platform to move around safely upon.”


Choosing the proper hoist is imperative, but really only the first step to ensuring worker safety. Operators should be educated on the proper use of hoisting equipment on the jobsite. While there is no special licensing required to operate a hoist, most companies offer certificates upon completion of the training. All hoists come with an operator’s manual, and some manufacturers go so far as to offer factory, video, or even on-site training.

The contractor should also carefully determine the best place to serve as a staging area for the hoist prior to the installation. Important considerations include figuring out where and how the hoist will be tied into either the scaffolding or the building wall.

Safety considerations

Clearly, all hoists should meet the safety standards set forth by OSHA, as well as address ANSI specifications. Most hoists come equipped with standard safety features including limit switches, over-speed brakes, overload sensing devices, and multiple controllers. These features allow the operators to use the hoist correctly and with better control.

Limit switches detect when it would be unsafe to operate the hoist, as in situations where the hoist reaches the top or bottom of its track or where a gate is not fully closed on the hoist. A sound portable or suspended wire rope hoist should come equipped with upper limit switches, which will stop the motor when the hoist reaches the top so the load will not run into the rigging.

Over-speed brakes serve as the emergency back-up and prevent free-falling. If the hoist is descending more quickly than is recommended, the over-speed brake will activate and stop the hoist. Prior to a hoist being used and during periodic maintenance checks, a drop test should be performed, where the hoist is sent into free fall to ensure the brake engages.

Overload sensing devices cause the hoist to stop operating and alert the user when the hoist has become too hot. This situation arises when a hoist is trying to lift too much weight, is running on too low a voltage, or has been running longer than it should. The overload sensing device prevents the hoist from burning out. Some manufacturers have installed mini-scales on various hoists to act in conjunction with the overload sensors and tell the user if there is too much weight or if the load is not fully centered on the platform, an effort that has significantly decreased the risk of hoist overload.


Buying a hoist is a big investment, so it’s a priority for contractors to keep the hoist in good working order. Following a few simple steps operators will be able to significantly extend the hoist’s life. Operators should periodically test the wire ropes and electric cables for fraying or tearing. Additionally, it is important to make sure all the connectors are free of standing water. If there is water or structural damage to the cables, wires or connectors, contractors should discontinue use of the hoist until the damaged parts can be replaced. Another thing to remember is to always provide adequate power for the hoists. Larger hoists require more amps than smaller ones, and inadequate power sources can cause the hoist to overheat and cease working. By greasing the mast on the rack and pinions, friction and additional wear can be avoided. Lastly, it is imperative to store the hoist and parts in a dry location.

Budgetary constraints, height and weight requirements, and safety considerations are all factors that influence a contractor’s decision of whether or not to use a hoist. When the contractor is fully informed of all the options available and dares to think outside the box, he runs a greater chance of being able to minimize jobsite accidents and finish the job on time and on budget.