Hand gestures are a universal idiosyncrasy etched in cultures all over the world, but their meanings? Not so much. For example, the beloved “thumbs up” is a sign that everything is alright in most North American and European countries, but in Asian and Islamic cultures this simple hand gesture is offensive. In Australia, a thumbs up means OK, but if you move your hand up and down, it is highly insulting.
The same idea applies to construction sites where hand gestures are frequently used as a form of communication between workers. While the meanings of these signals are often consistently understood within ones company or region, the globalization of the construction industry has created a need for universal sign language.
The International Organization for Standardization (IOS) has established a new standard under ISO 6715, which requires a set of hand signals be used for any construction site with a lift operator. The goal is not to take away from the unique sign language used by various cultures, but to help improve safety and efficiency in job sites whose workers come from different countries or cultural backgrounds.
ISO 16715 was developed by a subcommittee made up of 31 national members including countries like China, Brazil, India, Korea, Japan, South Africa, Australia, Russia, Europe, Canada and the USA.
Implementing these new standardized hand signals will better construction site safety and lower the risk of workplace accidents, while ensuring foreign workers and/or partners feel more comfortable on the job.