How to lift manhole covers safely

Updated March 23, 2017

Manholes provide access to sewers and other utility infrastructure, such as water pipes and telecommunications cables. They are topped with heavy cast iron or steel covers strong enough to withstand heavy traffic and prevent unauthorised entry. Removing a cover safely requires the right tools and preparation.

If the manhole isin a road, pavement or any other area with vehicle or pedestrian traffic, secure the area by putting up traffic cones. For a manhole on a busy road, place another person in a reflective jacket to direct traffic.

Clear the area of debris that may interfere with safe removal. Leaves, litter and large sticks should be cleared away to provide access to the manhole.

Before removing the cover, use a gas detector along the edge of manhole to test for dangerous gases and oxygen levels. If the levels are not right, then the area is not safe to enter.

If the manhole cover has holes in it, you can use a manhole hook to pry it off. Insert the hook into the hole and pull the cover up and drag it away from the manhole.

If the manhole cover doesn't have holes in it, use a manhole cover lifter. These devices use magnets to lift manholes. Follow instructions for the particular device and place the manhole on the ground while working inside the hole.

Test the manhole again for proper oxygen and gas levels. If levels are not safe, do not enter and let the area ventilate. Special ventilation equipment may be necessary to increase oxygen or decrease dangerous gas levels.

Install barriers around the manhole to prevent unauthorised entry or accidental falls down the shaft and put safety equipment for workers up before entering.

When the manhole cover is removed, the manhole is secured and gas levels are safe, then you can enter the manhole.


Use safety equipment like work boots and work gloves to protect yourself.

Manhole covers in your driveway or garden usually give access to drains and water supply pipes.


Only remove public highway manhole covers if you are trained and authorised to do so. These restrictions don't apply to manhole covers on your own property.

Things You'll Need

  • Traffic cones
  • High-visibility jacket
  • Traffic signs
  • Gas detector
  • Manhole hook
  • Magnetic manhole remover
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About the Author

Philip Rodney Moon has been writing since 2004. His work has appeared in Cracked, The Art of Manliness, "The Spartan Weekly" and Spartanedge. Moon has a Bachelor of Arts in telecommunication, information studies and media. He graduated from Michigan State University in 2009.