How to Calculate Safe Working Loads


Have you ever wondered how much weight a wire cable can safely hold? It’s surprising how strong wire cables are. Although wire cables often have small diameters and look flimsy, their strength is impressive. Calculating how much weight a wire cable can hold is called a Safe Working Load (SWL), and involves a mathematical formula. The SWL is usually calculated by the manufacturer of the cable and is marked on the packaging to inform consumers. To ensure your safety, always take note of the SWL the manufacturer provides.

Understanding the Terminology

SWL can also apply to other lifting devices or components of lifting devices, such as a line, rope or crane. The SWL is also sometimes referred to as Normal Working Load or Working Load Limit. It is the mass that lifting equipment can safely hold without fear of breaking. The SWL or NWL is often a fifth of the Minimum Breaking Strength of the cable, although sometimes other fractions are used, depending on the manufacturer.

Making the Calculations

To calculate the SWL, you need to know the diameter of the cable or rope. While you may find this on the packaging, you can also calculate it manually by measuring it yourself. Ensure that you enclose all of the strands of rope when measuring the diameter, and measure from the top of one strand to the top of the strand which is directly opposite. If you’re worried about the accuracy of your measurements, conduct your measurements three times at different places on the cable, and use the average of your three measurements as the diameter of the rope.

Once you know the diameter of the rope, you can apply it to the formula, which is SWL = D2 x 8. D represents the diameter of the rope in inches. If you’re working with a 1.5-inch diameter cable, for example, then the formula would be SWL = 1.52 x 8 or SWL = 2.25 x 8. This calculation means the SWL of a 1.5-inch diameter rope is 18 tons.

Taking Precautions

Take note that most manufacturers will provide you with the SWL for their rope or cable under specific conditions. It’s important to use the SWL the manufacturer gives you. If you’re working with old rope or rope that is worn down, you may want to reduce the SWL of the rope by as much as half, based on the condition of the rope. You can also use the manufacturer’s Breaking Strength of the rope if it is available.