Running a Shop

Your Guide to a Safe and Lasting Vehicle Lift

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In 2017, two technicians in a Canadian dealership’s shop were working on a vehicle that was sitting on a 10,000-pound lift.

The techs were underneath when the lift failed, dropping the vehicle six feet to the ground. The techs were critically injured. An investigation by the Ministry of Labour found that parts of the lift’s locking mechanism were worn, rusted and in poor condition.

The dealership, Lakeshore Motors, pleaded guilty in Candian court and was fined $45,000.

Just a week after that verdict, a vehicle fell off of a lift in New Jersey, killing a technician working there.

For the safety of technicians and for the health of your business, making sure that lifts work properly is one of the most important equipment concerns at a shop.

The top concern around having a certified working lift is safety. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has documented at least 20 accidents involving failed lifts since 2006. Twelve of those were fatal.

In addition to the risks of life and limb, poor lift management might have consequences for a business. In some jurisdictions, the lack of Automotive Lift Institute (ALI) factory certification might simply violate code.

“The building code officials do not let you operate, or you have seen where municipalities will red-tag an automotive lift that does not carry the gold label,” Bob O’Gorman, ALI president, says.

In September, NOLN looked at the efficiency gains that are possible in “Leverage the Lower Bay,” where most quick lube services are completed. But for lube-plus operations, like shops that offer tire service and general repair, there will often be lifts on site for some jobs.

The president of the industry’s leading watchdog agency, the Automotive Lift Institute, explains to NOLN what operators need to do to make sure their lifts are up to snuff.

 

Industry Standard

The Automotive Lift Institute has worked with the federal government on lift safety since 1947. It’s since grown to develop safety standards through accreditation by the American National Standards Institute, and it works with manufacturers on lab testing for lift models. Member companies must certify at least 75 percent of lifts sold.

The ALI has also introduced a certification program for inspectors. O’Gorman says that it’s the only organization in North American with the market reach and credentials. That umbrella includes 520 certified inspectors.

The gold label is the stamp of approval from the ALI, and it has become widely used in the industry. The program started in 1993 and represents a lab-tested and approved lift model.

When purchasing a lift, O’Gorman says that shop owners should ask about that certification. The ALI keeps a directory on its website of certified lift makes and models that can be used to double check.

O’Gorman says that in today’s market, it pays to make sure you’re getting the product as advertised. Make sure that invoices, receipts, offers and other paperwork maintain evidence of ALI certification.

 

Used Marketplace

The ALI doesn’t advise purchasing a lift used that’s been removed from a shop. O’Gorman says that a lift in that circumstance has likely been worked hard and replaced somewhere else.

“Used equipment is a big issue where we have more and more folks, sadly, who buy a used lift at an auction or off of the back of a truck where it’s been removed,” he says. “And there’s a lot of buyers’ remorse.”

Be suspicious if a used lift doesn’t have its load capacity, serial number or manufacturer’s nameplate clearly visible.

“Those are all good indicators that somebody is trying to hide the identification of that product. And that should be a warning signal,” he says.

Using a certified inspector for a used lift can be helpful to spot some problems, but O’Gorman says that a full, proper inspection is done when a lift is installed and functional at the shop.

 

At the Shop

Once a shop acquires a new lift, it’s up to the owner or manager to train the lift operators. O’Gorman says that each employee’s training should be documented. The ALI has courses that shops can use to train and certify for general safety and use.

The lift standard in the workplace is ALOIM—Automotive Lift Operation, Inspection and Maintenance.

“That standard has a list of daily checkpoints that a lift operator is responsible for looking at,” O’Gorman says.

Some regular inspection duties include making sure that warning and safety labels remain visible. Check the lift for damage or wear at contact points and other structural components, O’Gorman says, as well as evidence of pneumatic leaking.

“Unusual noises,” he says. “Sudden movements or erratic operation could be some of those other points as well.”

It’s also important for the lift operators to stay sharp and know their equipment. O’Gorman says that one question that ALI inspectors will often ask is how much hydraulic fluid is used in the lift. That’s usually a good indication of an operator’s knowledge, he says.

 

Call In the Expert

With all equipment in good working order, O’Gorman suggests that shops complete annual inspections with a certified inspector.

One way to find one is through ALI’s website (autolift.org), which has a directory of inspectors who are certified through the organization’s program.

“Folks who have not used an ALI inspector will be able to have a choice,” he says. “Folks who are trying to put a competitive bid out will be able to find (options).”

The second option is to ask manufacturers, many of which employ their own inspectors.

While ALI’s standards have for years required annual inspections, there wasn’t a standardized certification program until 2012. Kristen Simpson, who works on communications for ALI, says that different inspectors were working under different guidelines before the certification program. That meant different inspections for different operators.

Certification went live in 2013 and included annual inspection stickers to show completion. In addition to inspection standards, the program’s certified inspectors also adhere to a code of ethics and practices. O’Gorman says they’ve also encouraged inspectors to make sure shops are left with summary inspection reports when they leave.

 

Planned Maintenance

Inspections beget maintenance, and O’Gorman says that their standards dictate that each shop should have a plan in place. Often, the tasks in the plan reflect the findings from an inspector.

“There is a requirement that you have a maintenance plan for each lift,” he says. “And that maintenance plan should cover the requirements of the manufacturer and also should, as a minimum, address the findings of the lift inspection report and have those daily checks that are taking place by the lift operator.”

Lift models can also come with factory maintenance recommendations from the manufacturer. In the absence of manufacturer information, the ALOIM has a maintenance plan to follow.

According to ALI, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration relies on ALI maintenance standards and can cite shops for not performing planned maintenance. This can be reviewed in the event of an accident or complaint. OSHA would inspect a shop’s equipment and records.

 

Buyer Beware

The ALI has tracked cases of misleading or fraudulent claims of certifications for both lifts and lift inspectors.

Many of the advisories are for lift sellers or manufacturers that display false ALI certification. Others have used lift model numbers from other manufacturers that are certified. 

“We believe it is a pretty big problem, and it is widespread,” he says. “I think ALI and its members believe that it’s a buyer beware marketplace.”

ALI has also tracked counterfeit inspection stickers, most recently in 2018 in the New York City area. Shops looking to check a lift or inspector’s certifications can use ALI’s online directories.

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