Five commonly overlooked but crucial lift-safety tips

Whether you’re using two-post lifts for cars and light trucks or in-ground lifts for medium to heavy-duty vehicles, follow these basic rules.

If there were an incident in your garage involving a vehicle lift, the OSHA investigator would have three broad questions: What did you know? When did you know? What did you do about it?

Complying with American National Standards Institute (ANSI), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and Public Employees Occupational Safety and Health (PEOSH) requirements is the key to keeping vehicle lifts at the highest possible safety level, sending technicians home safely at the end of each shift, and avoiding write-ups or hefty noncompliance fines.

1. Buy certified equipment and options

There’s only one nationally recognized safety standard for vehicle lifts: ANSI-ALI/ALCTV, administered by the Automotive Lift Institute (ALI/ETL).

ALI/ETL’s testing procedure involves rigorous third-party testing to verify manufacturers comply with current ANSI requirements as well as the International Building Code, which almost every state requires local governments to follow. To verify equipment status, look for the gold ALI/ETL certification tag (shown here) next to the lift’s control functions.

Although certification is good for the life to lift, older models may not meet the most current standards, which typically change every five to seven years. Some lifts and options that were certified in 2000 wouldn’t pass the 2012 standard.

Beware that using an uncertified option or accesory voids the lift’s certification. ALI/ETL standards for Operation, Inspection, and Maintenance (ALOIM 8. Replacement Parts) and Installation and Service (ALIS 6.2.6 Repair Service Parts) require all accessories, such as rolling jacks, truck adaptors, lighting for runway lifts, and special lifting pads, to be certified.

2. No locks = liability

You’ve heard the phrase, “Never use a jack without a jack-stand.” The same is true for vehicle lifts. Always raise the vehicle and then lower it onto the lift’s mechanical locks as required by ANSI. Refer to ALI safety manual Lifting it Right or the manufacturer’s operating instructions for detailed information.

When you’re walking through the shop, make sure techs are using the proper procedure. The photo at right shows the mechanical lock fully engaged.

An easy way to be sure the locks are being used is to include a weight gauge (a pressure gauge calibrated to the manufacturer’s lift) in lift specifications. The weight gauge must be made by the same manufacturer to ensure it’s properly calibrated to the lift cylinder size.

When you walk by a two post lift with a Ford F-150 on it and the weight gauge reads 4,900 pounds, that’s a sign the tech in that bay hasn’t lowered the lift onto the mechanical locks. If the gauge reads “0” the tech is operating the lift properly.

If by chance you’re using a 40-year-old, in-ground lift that doesn’t have locks, it’s time for a new lift. Although some lifts can be retrofitted with locks, in most cases it’s not the most cost-effective option. Older lifts that aren’t ALI/ETL-certified can’t be certified post-installation.

3. It’s easy to overload

Manufacturers of the most common lift ­ two-post, side-by­ side models – man­ date that none of the four swing arms be overloaded.

For example: Many people would think that a 15,000 pound lift that’s loaded with a 14,000 pound ambulance isn’t near capacity.

But let’s say the front axle weighs 4,000 pounds and the back axle weighs 9,200 pounds. The per-arm capacity of 15,000 pound-rated lifts is 3,750 pounds. If one end of a vehicle weighs 9,200 pounds, each swing arm needs a minimum arm capacity of4,600 pounds for safe lifting.

Multiply this by four swing arms and the minimum capacity of your lift for this ve­hicle should be 18,400 pounds.

It’s easy to see why two-post, side-by­ side lifts are often overloaded , even though the total lift capacity hasn’t been exceeded. Look around your shop and determine if any lifts are being overloaded based on the heavy rear ends of work trucks.

4. Inspect equipment annually

ANSI/Automotive Lift Institute ALCTV Standard for Automotive Lifts – “Safety Requirements for Construction, Testing, and Validation” requires technicians to perform a daily operational safety check.

The code also requires an annual in­spection by a qualified individual. Failing to do so exposes your agency to liabilities that could be associated with an injury if an accident were to happen. Contact your manufacturer or garage equipment sales company to schedule an inspection.

5. Training and testing

Like any product, lifts vary in style, type, capability, longevity, and warranty. But ANSI/ALCTV regulations – and all 15 ALl/ETL-certified manufacturers ­ suggest annual maintenance and tech ­ nician training to remain in compliance with safety regulations.

ANSI requires technicians to be trained annually in proper lift use. This may seem unnecessary, but think of ev­eryone who drives a forklift in your fa­cility. Every year the operators watch a safety video and take a test. The test re­sults are added to each employees’ per­sonnel file for documentation in case of a forklift incident.

The same applies to vehicle lifts.

Contact the Automotive Lift Institute, your lift supplier, or a local lift inspec­tion company tor a copy of the 20-minute Lifting it Right video hosted by legendary NASCAR driver Richard “The King” Pet­ty and his son, Kyle. Require your techni­cians to watch the video and pass a writ­ten test on lift operation and safety. – PW

– Steve Perlstein (sperlstein@mohawklifts.com) is government sales manager for Mohawk Lifts of Amsterdam, N. Y.

Read the article as it appeared in Public Works magazine (PDF)