Guide to Manhole Equipment

When it comes to underground infrastructure maintenance, manholes play a crucial role in providing access to sewer and utility systems. Proper manhole management is crucial for maintaining underground infrastructure systems. 

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Guide to Manhole Equipment

Various types of equipment are employed to ensure safe and efficient operations during manhole maintenance, inspection, and repair tasks.

In this article, we will explore the major types of manhole equipment, arranged in the order they are typically utilized. From manhole guard rails to personal protective equipment (PPE), we will delve into each tool's specific function and importance in the effective management of manholes.

Types of Manhole Equipment


1. Manhole Cover Lifters

Manhole cover lifters are specialized tools designed to lift and remove manhole covers, which provide access to underground chambers for maintenance, inspection, and repair purposes. These lifters are specifically engineered to handle the weight and shape of manhole covers, making the task easier and safer for workers.

Hydraulic Manhole Cover Lifters
Image Credits: Probst

Manhole cover lifters come in various types, including:

Types of Manhole Cover Lifters



Manual Hook Lifters

Handheld with hooks or prongs

Lifts and removes manhole covers manually

Mechanical Lifters

Powered by mechanical mechanisms

Effortlessly lifts heavy manhole covers

Hydraulic Lifters

Utilizes hydraulic pressure

Lifts extremely heavy manhole covers with minimal physical effort

Magnetic Lifters

Strong magnets for secure attachment

Lifts metal manhole covers, particularly those made of ferrous materials

Adjustable Arm Lifters

Arms or jaws adjustable for versatility

Accommodates different sizes and types of manhole covers

Combination Lifters

Multiple lifting options

Offers versatility for various manhole cover types and situations

2. Manhole Keys

Manhole keys are specialized tools used to unlock and lift manhole covers. They are typically T-shaped or X-shaped tools that fit into keyholes on manhole covers, allowing for easy access and removal. Manhole keys provide leverage and grip to unlock and lift covers securely.

Manhole Keys

The key difference between manhole keys and manhole cover lifters is their primary function. Manhole keys focus on unlocking and lifting covers using the keyhole mechanism, while manhole cover lifters are specialized tools designed solely for lifting and removing manhole covers.

3. Manhole Hooks

Manhole hooks are long-handled tools with curved ends that are specifically designed for lifting and removing heavy manhole covers. They are commonly used in conjunction with other tools or equipment to safely access the underground chamber.

The curved end of the manhole hook is inserted beneath the edge of the manhole cover, providing a secure grip. By leveraging the long handle, workers can apply force to lift and remove the cover with minimal effort. Manhole hooks are particularly useful when dealing with covers that are heavy, stuck, or tightly sealed.

Manhole Hooks

These hooks are typically made of durable materials, such as steel or alloy, to withstand the force required for cover removal. They may have non-slip or textured surfaces on the gripping end to ensure a firm hold on the cover, reducing the risk of slippage during lifting.

Manhole hooks come in various lengths and designs to accommodate different cover sizes and types. They are essential tools for workers involved in manhole maintenance, inspection, or repair tasks, providing a safe and efficient method for accessing underground chambers.

4. Manhole Guard Rails

Manhole guard rails are safety devices installed around the perimeter of an open manhole to create a protective barrier. They serve as a visual reminder of the presence of an open manhole hence preventing accidental falls and providing a safe working area for personnel involved in manhole-related activities.

Manhole Guard Rails
Manhole Guard Rails
Image Credits: Vestil

Manhole guard rails are typically made of sturdy materials such as metal or alloy. They are designed to be durable and withstand environmental conditions, ensuring long-lasting protection. Some guard rails feature adjustable or modular designs, allowing them to be easily adapted to fit different manhole sizes and shapes.

Manhole guard rails also come with lift rails are safety devices that combine the functions of both guard rails and lift rails. They provide a protective barrier around the perimeter of an open manhole while also offering a lifting mechanism for easy removal of manhole covers.

Manhole Guard Rails with Lift Rails
Image Credits: Penn Tool Co

In addition to their safety benefits, manhole guard rails may include additional features for enhanced visibility. This can include reflective strips or markings to improve visibility during low-light conditions or in areas with reduced visibility.

5. Manhole Shields

Manhole shields, also known as manhole boxes or trench shields, are protective structures used in excavation and construction activities involving manholes. They are designed to provide a safe working environment for personnel inside the excavation area.

Manhole Shields
Image Credits: 

The primary purpose of manhole shields is to protect workers from cave-ins or collapses during manhole construction, maintenance, or repair. They are typically made of strong and durable materials such as steel or aluminum, capable of withstanding the pressure from soil or other surrounding materials.

7. Manhole Plank Support

Manhole plank supports, also known as manhole trench supports or trench boxes, are equipment used to provide sidewall support and protect workers during excavation and construction activities involving manholes.

The main purpose of manhole plank supports is to prevent soil collapse and create a safe working environment inside the excavation area. They are typically constructed using durable materials such as steel or aluminum and consist of panels or planks that are assembled and placed along the sidewalls of the trench or excavation.

8. Work Lamps

Work lamps, also known as task lighting or construction lighting, are specialized lighting fixtures designed to provide illumination in work areas, including manholes. They are specifically designed to meet the unique lighting needs of construction, maintenance, or repair tasks performed in confined spaces or low-light conditions.

The primary purpose of work lamps is to improve visibility and ensure adequate lighting for workers to perform their tasks safely and effectively. In the context of manholes, work lamps are used to illuminate the interior of the manhole chamber, providing clear visibility of the work area and its surroundings.

9. Manhole Pumps

Pumps play a crucial role in manhole maintenance and construction activities by removing water or other liquids that may accumulate within the manhole chamber. There are different types of pumps used in manholes, each with its specific application and capabilities. Some common types of pumps used in manholes include:

  1. Submersible Pumps: These pumps are designed to be submerged in water or other liquids. They are capable of pumping out water from the manhole chamber, preventing flooding or accumulation. 
  2. Vacuum Pumps: Vacuum pumps are used to create suction and remove liquids or debris from the manhole chamber. They can handle both liquids and solids, making them suitable for clearing out sludge, mud, or other materials that may accumulate within the manhole. 
  3. Diaphragm Pumps: Diaphragm pumps are versatile and efficient pumps that can handle a wide range of fluids, including water, sewage, or sludge. They feature a flexible diaphragm that moves back and forth to create pressure and pumping action. 
  4. Centrifugal Pumps: Centrifugal pumps are commonly used for water removal in manholes. They use centrifugal force to move liquids through a rotating impeller, creating a low-pressure region that draws in the liquid. 
The choice of the pump depends on factors such as the volume of liquid to be removed, the presence of solids or debris, and the specific requirements of the manhole project. It is important to select a pump that is appropriate for the conditions and capable of effectively removing liquid from the manhole chamber, ensuring a safe and dry working environment.

10. Manhole Rescue Pole

A manhole rescue pole, also known as a manhole retrieval pole or manhole lifeline, is a specialized tool used for rescuing workers in emergency situations within manholes or confined spaces. It is an essential safety device designed to facilitate the quick and safe extraction of personnel in the event of an incident or when immediate assistance is required.
Manhole Rescue Pole
Manhole Rescue Pole
Image Credits: 
Mark One Hire

The manhole rescue pole consists of a long pole or rod made of durable materials such as fiberglass or metal. It is typically equipped with a loop, hook, or other attachment mechanism at one end, which is used to secure and stabilize the worker during rescue operations.

11. Mud Bucket

A mud bucket for manholes is a specialized tool used to remove mud, silt, or other loose debris that may accumulate at the bottom of a manhole chamber. It is specifically designed to efficiently clear the mud and silt that cannot be effectively removed using other methods such as pumps. The mud bucket consists of a container or bucket made of durable materials, typically metal or heavy-duty plastic. 

12. Ventilators

Ventilators used in manholes are specialized devices that provide continuous fresh air circulation for the ventilation of manholes and other confined workspaces. They are essential for maintaining a safe and breathable environment inside the manhole during various construction, maintenance, or inspection activities.
Image Credits: Zoro Tools

The primary purpose of ventilators is to remove stagnant air, harmful gases, fumes, or other airborne contaminants from the manhole chamber and replace them with fresh air. By ensuring proper ventilation, they help prevent the buildup of hazardous gases, such as methane or hydrogen sulfide, which can pose serious health risks to workers. They are typically designed to be compact, portable, and easy to deploy. 

13. Cable Vaults and Cable Bending Tool

Cable vaults, also known as cable enclosures or cable junction boxes, are protective structures used to house and manage cables and their associated components. They provide a secure and organized space for cable connections, splices, terminations, and distribution points within the manhole.

Cable bending tools, also known as cable pulling tools or cable rollers, are used to guide and manipulate cables during installation or routing processes. They facilitate the smooth and controlled movement of cables around corners, bends, or obstacles within the manhole or conduit system.

14. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is crucial for ensuring the safety of workers in manhole environments. It includes specialized gear such as hard hats to protect the head from falling objects, safety glasses or goggles to safeguard the eyes from debris, and other equipment like gloves, safety boots, and high-visibility vests.

PPE is essential in mitigating risks and preventing injuries during manhole-related activities, providing workers with the necessary protection against hazards present in confined spaces.


By employing the right equipment and following appropriate safety protocols, professionals can carry out manhole-related tasks effectively, contributing to the smooth functioning of underground utility systems while prioritizing the well-being of workers.

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