When the subject of automotive lift inspections comes up, it's usually followed by some questions.
Is an annual lift inspection required? Do we need to use a certified inspector? What do OSHA’s regulations say?
And there's a good reason for this. These are mechanical devices that are electrically, pneumatically, or hydraulically powered. They're a lot more complex than hammers and wrenches. So, it’s important that we assess our needs when it comes to lift inspections, even if we’re not the ones conducting the inspections.
Where to Begin
These are some of the major types of automotive lifts:
- Multi-post runway
- Mobile column
- Two-post surface mounted
- Drive-on parallelogram
- Low/mid-rise frame engaging
Clearly, few people will have the expertise necessary to conduct thorough inspections of all these lift types. And there are a whole bunch of smaller lift types, such as mobile end lifts. While these are smaller and cheaper (if $5K can be considered cheap), they are still powered lifting devices worthy of inspection.
A good start is to do exactly what the lift manufacturer says. The manufacturers know more about their lifts than anybody else ever will. Their operator manuals lay out all the criteria stuff, including how, and how frequently, to inspect their lifts.
General Duty Clause
In the United States, there is no federal workplace safety regulation that calls for lift inspections to be conducted by an inspector who’s been through a certification process. The inspections don’t even need to be documented. In fact, at the time that I’m writing this, OSHA doesn’t have any specific standards that apply to automotive lifts.
But, there is something called the “General Duty Clause,” which means that an employer can be cited for unsafe work practices even when there is no specific standard that addresses a particular hazard. If a compliance officer observes an obviously beat up automotive lift in operation while they’re on the premises, they can cite the employer for it. And OSHA has a universal inspection requirement for tools, materials, and equipment (and the workplace in general) to be inspected frequently enough that hazards are eliminated before they can hurt anybody.
We need to ensure that automotive lifts are safe and fit for duty. Not because OSHA or anybody else says so, but because there is no reason why any equipment in the workplace should not be safe. Safer workplaces tend to be more productive and profitable workplaces. That’s really all the incentive you need to insist that inspections are taking place and that identified hazards are corrected ASAP (see The Hierarchy of Hazard Control for how to prioritize your efforts).
The Operator's Manual
The operator's manual tells you what you need to know. If you don’t have one, contact the manufacturer and request it; they’ll most likely provide it for free in PDF format via email. If your lift was last manufactured prior to the new Millennium, however, there is a chance that manual is no longer available unless an original copy is lying around somewhere.
Here are inspection points common to most operator manuals:
- Visually inspect all components for signs of corrosion, cracks, and excessive wear
- Visually inspect all welds
- Inspect hoses for signs of cuts, abrasions, or excessive wear
- Inspect fittings for cracks or damaged parts
- Inspect adjusting pins for deformations and holes for elongation (top tip: this is an indicator that the lift has been overloaded)
- Verify that all warning and informational labels are present and readable
Most of the manuals I’ve reviewed require an inspection prior to using the lift for the first time that day. Some require visual inspections before the day’s first use, while others recommend more in-depth functional inspections.
Some manufacturers call for full inspections at least weekly regardless of how frequently the lift is used; others may permit falling back to monthly inspections if the lift is used intermittently.
Most manufacturers require removing the lift from service immediately and contacting them for further instructions when there are serious safety concerns with it, such as being badly worn, functioning abnormally, or a shock loading situation (the load is dropped suddenly on the lift).
Another great feature of the operator's manual is that it doesn’t solely provide guidelines on inspections, but also how to use the lift in the most efficient and trouble-free manner possible. This is definitely something that a qualified lift inspector (whether yours or a third party) should know.
The ANSI/ALI ALOIM Consensus Standard
ANSI/ALI ALOIM is a non-mandatory consensus standard that addresses automotive lifts. If you’ve heard that lifts should be inspected at least once per year by a qualified inspector, this standard is where that guidance is coming from.
ALI is the Automotive Lift Institute, a U.S. trade association. ALI is credentialed by ANSI and has a long history with this sort of thing; ALI sponsored the first automotive lift standard in the U.S. back in 1947.
ALOIM is short for Automotive Lift Operation, Inspection, and Maintenance. There are five pages addressing inspection points alone, such as:
- Examining accessible structural components, including welds
- Checking other components, such as fastening devices, chains and cables, and electrical wiring
- Verifying lubrication and cleanliness and integrity of the lubrication points and fittings
- Checking lift controls and operating the lift through its full cycle to ensure proper function
- Checking for potential pinch points and proper clearances around the lift
- Ensuring that lift documentation (operator manual and safety and capacity labeling) is present
The ANSI/ALI ALOIM standard’s take on lift inspections is single-stick with what any lift manufacturer would expect in an inspection regime. Though not mandatory, the guidance in this standard is well worth following.
I believe that we will eventually see an OSHA standard for automotive lifts. If that time comes, I also believe that the regulatory language will be very similar to what the ANSI/ALI ALOIM standard has to say. This is already the case for many ANSI consensus standards and OSHA regulatory standards that address similar devices. There is no philosophical departure between ANSI and OSHA’s treatment of forklifts, aerial lifts, lift trucks – or for that matter just about anything else, whether powder actuated tools or lasers.
A major difference between ANSI and OSHA standards is that ANSI overhauls their standards regularly. OSHA’s update process usually takes years and years, if not decades. For example, it took OSHA more than 40 years to update their fall protection standards.
Certified Lift Inspectors
So, what about the certified third-party experts who will inspect your lift and put a sticker on it once each year?
Since OSHA has no automotive lift standard, this particular practice doesn’t meet any regulatory requirement. But OSHA does have universal requirements to inspect tools and equipment in the workplace on a frequent and regular basis. So long as somebody qualified to carry out the manufacturer’s inspection requirements is doing so and keeping the lift safe (whether an employee or a third party), then regulatory requirements have been met.
While there aren’t any regulatory program requirements for inspector qualification or certification, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any industry programs. ALI developed its Lift Inspector Certification Program in 2012. Not only has ALI been active in developing automotive lift standards, they’ve also been at the forefront of qualifying folks who can serve as third-party lift inspectors.
Candidates in ALI’s lift inspector program must first attend a workshop and then pass a pre-course exam. After completing all course requirements, they must pass a final exam and successfully perform 12 practical (real life) lift inspections using standardized paperwork (that ALI also developed). Following initial certification, continuing education and quality review audits are required to maintain ongoing certification.
Should I Use a Third-Party Inspector?
Is there anyone in the shop that can thoroughly inspect the lift beyond routine daily inspections? If not, periodically utilizing the services of a qualified third-party lift inspector may be a good idea.
For older lifts that haven’t been thoroughly inspected in a long time (or if it's not known whether it's ever been inspected), it may be prudent to seek out a qualified third-party inspector and have them complete a comprehensive checkup.
Finding qualified inspectors is easy. ALI maintains an online directory of those who’ve been through its certification process.
Ultimately, it’s up to the employer to decide how lifts are to be inspected in the workplace.
The operator's manual is a great start, but it may not be enough for everything that’s desired. That’s when third party experts can help.
One thing’s for sure: though OSHA hasn’t yet formulated any regulations specifically for auto lift inspections, there are more resources available than ever before.