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Maintaining Safety with Non-Conventional Lifts

How to identify and manage the risks and challenges associated with awkward loads.

Rotating eyebolt with ring. Swivels and pivots, can rotate under load, will self-align with direction of load. Photo courtesy of All Material Handling (AMH).

By: Jim CanfieldContributor

Any good operator will have plans in place for lifting common loads. But what happens when it’s a different load that is more complex? How can we better mitigate risk in these non-standard lifts?

For many companies, most lifting operations involving hoists or mobile cranes are relatively straightforward. They typically lift the same loads, using the same lifting plan, giving the person at the controls complete confidence that they are using the equipment in a safe way.

In these scenarios, any challenges or incidents typically arise when the lifting load deviates from the norm. For the purposes of this article, we’ll use the widely understood industry terms “standard” and “non-standard” to differentiate these two types of lifting.


A standard lift is exactly as it sounds – a straightforward lifting operation. Typically, this is a load that is lifted in line, and doesn’t push the crane or hoist’s lifting capacity to its limits. A great example would be lifting steel beams in the steel services industry. Because this is a relatively simple lifting operation, it is usually deemed low-risk and can follow a standard lifting plan.


A non-standard lift is more complex and challenging – it brings additional risk that must be managed. This can still be an in-line lift but one that uses a large proportion of the hoist or crane’s load chart rating. However, for this article, we’re looking specifically at another facet of non-standard lifts – awkward loads.

While a sling and some hooks are usually enough for a load with easy connections such as a shackle and welded eye or plate, a non-traditional lift for a large motor or a flat gear can be much more challenging. These types of loads also have centers of gravity that can be harder to judge, requiring angled lifts.

Rotating eyebolts with load limits forged into the steel, like this model from CARTEC, clarify working load limits for riggers.


As any good rigger knows, a vertical load angle is the simplest. Lifting directly upwards minimizes stress on the lifting equipment. The opposite is of course a horizontal load angles – also known as side loading, which is when you are moving a load parallel to the ground. This can put additional stress on the equipment but is still relatively straightforward.

Lifting an off-centered load, creating an angled or inclined load, can be where the challenges really begin. An inclined load is one where the load is lifted at an angle between the vertical and horizontal axes – therefore the equipment is subject to both vertical and horizontal forces. This leads to additional stress on rigging equipment which in turn can increase wear on components, meaning higher risk of failure.

The further the load angle deviates from the vertical position, the more the resulting load tension increases. What this means in lay terms is that load weight and distribution become much more important. Uneven distribution leads to imbalanced and off-center loads, meaning that if you get your load angles wrong, you can end up with load swing or rotation.

When planning a lift, determine the best load angle for safe lifting by calculating factors including load weight, distribution and rigging configuration. Be sure to account for the load’s center of gravity and its distance from the attachment points – also known as pick points.


There were two traditional ways of non-standard lifting and both can be an accident waiting to happen. The first and most “old school” method was to wrap a sling around the load and hope for the best. Thankfully, it’s fair to say that this approach is falling out of common practice, but it still happens more than it should.

The second issue is using the wrong kind of eyebolts, which remains much more prevalent and is simply unsafe. Traditional eyebolts are best used for straight in-line lifts only, or they incur a significant reduction in the working load limit (WLL). For angled lifts, this means the rigger has to second-guess the reduced working load limit of a standard eyebolt because it is not an in-line lift. Guess wrong and you could have a load making unintended movements, potentially placing both people and property in danger.

Most eyebolt manufacturers clearly state that these products should not be used at angles below 45 degrees as this requires you to downrate the WLL. But there is not complete consistency – some manufacturers permit their fixed eyebolts to be used down to 90 degrees. This can catch someone off guard if they are accustomed to using one brand of eyebolt but the lift in question is using another.

Image courtesy of All Material Handling (AMH)


The smarter alternative to traditional eyebolts is rotating eyebolts. As the name suggests, they are specifically designed to lift from the focal point and keep the load centered – practically eliminating the risk of sideloading caused by using standard eyebolts.

There are two other key advantages of using rotating eyebolts. Firstly, there is no more need for shimming the shoulder to get a proper lift angle, which can happen with traditional eyebolts – or worse, risk a failure due to lousy positioning.

Secondly, they can eliminate the guesswork on working load limits as the WLL doesn’t change with angled loads. You can now buy rotating eyebolts which provide a 100% working load limit at any angle allowed by the user’s manual.

Also, look for rotating eyebolts like those from CARTEC, which have the load limit forged into the steel, so it is clearly visible to riggers. This is a big advantage, as not being able to clearly see the WLL can cause confusion, particularly for inexperienced employees.


While rotating eyebolts help improve safety for non-standard lifting, they are not a magic bullet. Apply the same focus, care and attention to all angled lifts, whatever equipment you are using – rotating eyebolts are not a substitute for good practice; they are a tool towards achieving it.

Beyond the usual lifting plan, it’s important to continuously monitor load angles while lifting – use appropriate equipment such as load angle sensors and load movement indicators. In between lifts, regularly inspect rigging equipment, looking out for signs of wear or damage.

Some manufacturers integrate visual warnings into their designs. For example, the CARTEC 807 series eyebolts have a powder coated paint finish, which changes color when exposed to extremely high temperatures. This is a very clear indicator that you should swap out this component immediately.


While a swivel eyebolt has a slightly higher price than a standard eyebolt, this is nothing compared to the human and financial cost of an incident that causes injury or even death. Using the correct eyebolts can deliver “safety ROI” by helping to protect people as well as property.

Using rigging equipment to correctly position a load for a stable lift is vital for maintaining optimal load angles, and therefore minimizing risk of sideloading or swing. Rotating eyebolts allow the bale to rotate, creating the proper angle, meaning they are one more way for safety-conscious companies to mitigate risk. WMHS

Jim Canfield is sales director at All Material Handling (AMH), a privately-owned provider of material handling equipment and accessories. For further details visit

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