Most scaffolds need a way to raise materials to work height, and gin wheels or pulley wheels are by far the most popular. The combination of being simple to affix and to use simply attach the object and pull it upwards – makes them a straightforward and effective choice for lifting tubes and timber. Yet this simplicity can mask the inherent dangers in improper gin wheel usage, both to the operators and the public.
The installation of gin wheels needs to be planned, coordinated, and undertaken by a competent person, and the wheels and ropes need to be periodically inspected. Additionally, the use of the wheels needs to be done by trained individuals, and the process should ideally be overseen by a site supervisor. Yet specific training for gin wheel use is exceedingly rare, and in our experience, many of these steps are outright ignored.
Using a gin or pulley wheel is a low-cost and convenient way of raising or lowering a load. However, these are some risks associated with using gin or pulley wheels:
- A hoisting rope that does not have a proper safety hook or knots at the end.
- A hoisting rope that is worn and needs to be removed from service.
- A load that exceeds the weight capacity of the components or the ability of workers to lift it.
- A load is not secured properly
- A bucket or load that strikes the scaffold or building, causing the load to tip and fall.
- An improperly lashed item
- Improper use of the lift
- A poorly fitted or maintained lift
- Damaged rope or connectors
- Lack of or poor implementation of exclusion zones
- Items that aren’t suitable to be lifted, such as buckets or pails.
Just from this, it should be evident that the gin wheel is a piece of machinery that should be treated with care, the same as any other. Yet it’s often treated as a static tool with no moving parts, and no capacity to do anything unexpected. This is patently the wrong approach to take, and it shouldn’t take tragic accidents to force a rethink in how we approach gin wheel safety.
How to use gin wheels safely
Ideally, anyone working with gin wheels (by extension, most people working on scaffolding) should have specific gin wheel safety training. However, this isn’t necessarily a practical solution. Other courses do cover some of the same ground, with the NEBOSH National General Certificate covering hoists and lifts, and a variety of other certificates covering lifts and pulleys.
On a fundamental level, every use of gin wheels should be planned out, with a proper risk assessment to determine how they will be used and who will be using them. The devices should be inspected before, during, and after use, and their use should be overseen by qualified professionals. While not comprehensive, a brief checklist might include:
- Ensuring proper hitch knot technique
- Setting up an exclusion zone
- Never standing directly under the lift
- Only lifting stable objects which won’t spill or tip
- Raising or removing the rope after use so it can’t be abused
- Inspect the hoisting equipment and rope before each use. When not in use, store the rope so that it’s protected from exposure to rain, snow, and UV radiation from the sun.
- Set up the gin wheel according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Make sure the gin wheel and the rope are rated for the load you will be hoisting.
- When lifting liquid, cover the bucket so the contents don’t spill.
- Always rope off the area below the gin wheel and never stand directly below the load. (O.Reg. 213/91, s. 103)
- Whenever possible, workers at ground level should lift the load. When lifting, do not stand under the load.
- Always use gloves when working with a gin wheel to prevent rope burn.
- Make sure the rope is the correct diameter for the size of the gin wheel.
- Only use a gin wheel with a working safety catch on the mounting hook to prevent the wheel from detaching.
- If proper hooks are not available, use the appropriate knots.
- Mount the gin wheel on a safe work platform that is above the standing arm’s length of the worker who will be receiving the load. The load itself should be received no higher than the worker’s shoulder height.
- Restrict loads to one-fifth of your body weight and watch for excessive side loading.
- Workers receiving the load (at heights) must use proper fall protection.
- If two or more workers are lifting the load, one worker should be giving instructions.
Perhaps the best way to approach gin wheel safety is to remind workers of their responsibilities when it comes to gin wheels and fills in a few blanks for those who have forgotten. A responsible approach to safety is best communicated from above, and so implementing a formal inspection and planning process will go a long way to set a standard for their safe operation.
It’s also helpful to give regular toolbox talks on the subject, using a basic checklist for their safe operation. By drilling home the basic details, you can help to instill a safe approach through repetition and coordinate it across the site. It doesn’t hurt to use a few practical examples in these talks either, including the sorts of horror stories that inspired this article
Gin wheels are just one aspect of working at height, but they’re one that’s frequently ignored. While many people focus on keeping themselves safe at height, it can be easier to forget about the people around you, be they the person sending up the materials or bystanders on the ground below.
Gin wheel training is one element of a conscientious approach to site safety, but taking a minute to think about the impact of your work on the people around you can flag up all sorts of similar issues. By being proactive and asking questions about whether your processes are keeping people safe, you’ll make a difference that could ultimately save lives.