Because working under vehicles is so common, people may get used to the fact that they are working under potentially lethal weights. But, unfortunately, serious and fatal accidents do happen each year despite the dangers and precautions being well known.
The HSE has published information that has shown what can go wrong with examples where people have actually lost their lives.
Examples include working under a vehicle raised by a forklift, using a jack without axle stands – the advice is to use the right equipment and use it correctly.
It’s the Pits
Many garages still use a pit for working underneath vehicles. Although there are no moving parts involved, caution need to be taken in and around them. The HSE cites a death of one technician overcome by fumes while working under a vehicle with the engine running, whist a driver died after absentmindedly falling down an inspection pit.
Let the Lifts Take the Strain
Installing vehicle lifts makes the technicians’ lives easier, can free up valuable space in the workshop and represent a step forward in safety terms than basic open inspection pits.
Despite these benefits, make sure that you source your lift from a reputable supplier. If you don’t get a lift correctly installed by the professionals, danger lurks around the corner, the HSE cites an example where a two-post lift was installed into concrete of unknown strength. Three people were working under a raised vehicle and moved away minutes before the lift collapsed without warning. Thankfully, no one was injured.
How to prevent this? Make sure the floor and fixings meet the lift manufacturer’s specification. If in doubt, get specialist advice.
Inspection and Maintenance
It is important that, whatever type of lift is installed, you are aware of the responsibilities under the PUWER (Provision and Use of Workshop Equipment Regulations) and LOLER, (Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations).
Key to this confusion is the fact that Reports of Thorough Examination are additional to planned maintenance required by PUWER.
The LOLER regulations state that Reports of Thorough Examination are required: Where work equipment is of a type where the safe operation is critically dependent on its condition in use and deterioration would lead to a significant risk to the operator or other workers.
According to the HSE, a Report of Thorough Examination is a systematic and detailed examination of the equipment and its safety-critical parts, carried out at specified intervals by a competent person who must then complete a written report.
In this case, the term ‘competent person’ is not defined in law, but LOLER guidance says they have appropriate practical and theoretical knowledge and experience of the lifting equipment to be examined.
Horror stories of poor maintenance abound: A two-post lift was being operated by an employee while the owner worked beneath it. A drive nut failed and the vehicle fell onto the owner, killing him. The safety back-up nut had become detached a long time earlier. The lift had not been thoroughly examined and tested.
Vehicle Lift Technology
The first decision to make is whether to opt for a fixed system or a mobile system. The solution depends upon the type of work undertaken, the design of the workshop and the amount of space available. Using mobile lifts, where the wheels are used as raising points and can be moved into any position, any vehicle length can be accommodated, the civil engineering works are minimised and they can be moved to new locations more straightforwardly.
Fixed lifts on the other hand facilitate a faster turnaround time and can be recessed into the floor to make more room in the workshops when not in use. Using jacking beams in conjunction with a fixed four post lift gives you the ability to remove wheels whilst working at height, which is not possible with mobile columns.
Care should be taken with some traditional recessed lifts that create an open pit beneath the raised lift. Installing systems such as Stertil Koni’s automatic recess cover plates means that recessed lifts can be both space saving and safer.
Further choices involve the option of a mechanical lifting mechanism or using hydraulics. Mechanical ‘screw bolt’ type lifts are often lighter than hydraulic lifts – important when considering mobile lifts. Electro-Hydraulic systems are typically more expensive to install, but tend to have lower operating costs when compared to most mechanical systems.
Technology is moving on at a pace in the lift market. For example, SEFAC’s mobile lifts are now available with no connecting wires; the systems use wireless technology to communicate with each other. To ensure that all the lifting units are talking correctly to each other, the operator can use an RFID device to activate and synchronise the system. The wireless lifts are typically battery powered, charged on a standard supply overnight, rather than fed by a three phase mains supply. This simplifies installation further and makes the lifts truly mobile.
JHM Butt & Company are an established company, trading for over 40 years distributing, installing & servicing quality workshop equipment throughout the UK. The company markets a range of European manufactured vehicle lifts. With a wide range of models to choose from, Butts can offer a lifting solution for almost any application.
Butts’ range includes electro mechanical & electro hydraulic 2- and 4-post lifts, scissor lifts and electro mechanical & electro hydraulic mobile column lifts, with WiFi models available.
BOSTON VEHICLE LIFTS
Developed from over 25 years of vehicle lift manufacturing, Boston markets a series of 4-post lifts, which they claim are ‘the most advanced available in Europe’. Built in Europe exclusively for Boston, with software and controls manufactured by Boston in the UK, both of Boston’s heavy duty models have platform recesses into which their hydraulic or pneumatic play detectors can be installed or retrofitted at any time.
With platform lengths varying from 4.65M to 6.10M, all with broad 630mm width, and reinforced substructure, they are well suited to vehicle testing, ATL bays, commercial workshops and new LWB vehicle work. Operable from any post for ease of use and time saving, there are also 24V outlet sockets at each corner for inspection lamps, and an airline socket on the crossbeam.
The French manufacturer has been making mobile column lifts for more than 40 years, with a presence in the UK for a decade. There are some 60,000 SEFAC heavy duty mobile column lifts in operation throughout the world. With lifts from 3 to as much as ten tonnes per column.