Safety In The Shop: Maintaining The Lift
Few tools are more essential to an auto maintenance facility than the lifts used to raise the cars so service techs can work on them (the exceptions, of course, are shops that use pits to access the vehicle’s underbellies). Without lifts, car maintenance and repairs might be far less efficient. But efficiency, and the monetary benefits thereof, are only one reason to make sure your shop’s lifts are well-maintained and functioning as they should. The other, of course, is safety. Your employees’ lives, and your business, depend on the safe and smooth operation of your lifts.
Some auto shop owners have an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude when it comes to lift maintenance. Thankfully, most car owners don’t follow the same creed or lube shops wouldn’t have any business. Like a car, automotive lifts require regular inspections and preventive maintenance. Like a car, small issues, if left untended, can turn into major and expensive repairs down the road or worse, make the lift a safety hazard.
In fact, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) requires a qualified inspector check automotive lifts at least annually (ANSI/ALI ALOIM-2008 R2013). These inspections, while admittedly inconvenient, not only keep a shop on the right side of the law and avoid any possible health and safety citations or fines, but they also identify potential lift problems, saving valuable time and money in the future.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, thousands of auto shop workers are injured on the job every year. While there are certainly many possible sources of injury in the average shop, few harbor the potential threat to life and limb as a faulty lift. Having your lifts inspected annually is cheap insurance against injury. If an injury were to occur as a result of a lift malfunction, having records of regular inspections and service could prove invaluable evidence in a courtroom.
Beyond the Basics
As in many things in life, doing only the bare minimum necessary to get by with your lifts can cause more headaches long-term than going the extra mile now. While legally oil and lube shops are only required to have their lifts inspected annually, these infrequent, professional inspections should be considered just the start. To truly cultivate a culture of safety in the shop, lube shop employees should inspect each lift daily before use to ensure everything is as it should be. Of course, it’s highly unlikely your technicians will make a habit of checking their lifts if the ownership and management don’t set it as a priority. A morning “pre-flight check” should be one of the first things on each worker’s checklist.
What Should a Lift Check Entail?
If these early pre-work lift inspections haven’t been a part of your shop’s daily routine, you may not know where to start. Obviously, these daily checkups don’t need to be as thorough as the annual inspection done by a certified lift inspector, but there are a few things to look out for. Employees should check for wear, corrosion, low fluid levels and any unusual noises or behavior. If a problem should arise without an obvious (and safe) solution, that lift should be retired until a qualified technician can service it. It’s also a good idea to get familiar with the owners manual for your particular make and model of lift. Chances are, the manual will give an overview of the routine maintenance required by your lift, help you troubleshoot any problems and give you a better understanding of its operation.
Purchasing a Lift
If one or more of your lifts has reached the end of its life, you’ll likely want to find a replacement as quickly as possible. When you’re shopping for a new lift, be wary of any lift that isn’t certified by the Automotive Lift Institute (ALI). While there are many makes and models on the market, only lifts certified by ALI have been tested by a third party to make sure they comply with the highest standards of build quality and safety. Part of the ALI testing process includes loading a lift to 150-percent of its rated load capacity and checking for any deformation or failure of the lift’s structural components. If a lift can pass this test, then it should be able to withstand years of normal use safely. ALI certification also requires the lift’s instructional material also meets certain standards.
Unfortunately, lift manufacturers are not required to have their lifts tested by ALI and many choose not to. Purchasing an untested, uncertified lift is certainly a case of buyer beware, particularly if the lift was manufactured overseas or in a developing country. Often, these lifts were not designed with U.S. electrical and mechanical standards in mind. However, any manufacturer, no matter where they’re located, can have their products tested by ALI. It’s also worth noting ALI certification applies only to specific lift models that have been tested. Manufacturers may have multiple models, some of which are certified while others are not.
If the lifts you already have in your shop are not ALI certified, you may want to consider upgrading them in the future.
Finding a Lift Inspector
When it comes time for your annual lift inspection, you’ll want to be sure to hire an ALI certified inspector to do the job. Even though the requirements for lift inspections were first written in the 1990s, no third party accreditation program existed until the ALI Lift Inspector Certification Program was launched in 2012. Prior to this, there was no way of knowing whether a lift inspector was actually qualified. Since the program is so new, there are only 200 or so ALI certified lift inspectors across the country. To find one, visit: www.autolift.org
You Can’t Put a Price on Safety
Though lift inspections and maintenance can be tedious and, at times, inconvenient, they are part of the cost of doing business. Few areas in an automotive maintenance shop are as essential to the efficiency and viability of the business as having properly functioning lifts. Those same lifts, however, if improperly serviced and maintained, threaten not only the future of the business, but the lives and health of its employees. If a lift should fail, the consequences would undoubtedly be severe, likely resulting in damage to a customer’s car at minimum. Luckily, with preventive maintenance, regular professional inspections and service and a daily pre-flight inspection by techs, your shop’s lifts will continue to keep you, your business and your employees safe for many years to come.