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Looking at buying new shop equipment?

Be buyer aware!

xBy John Cannell

Some of you may recall the article placed in the January 2007 issue of this magazine entitled “Caveat Emptor.” It related to possible hazards involved in purchasing vehicle lifts manufactured offshore and particularly those which were not approved or certified.

I painted a scenario wherein one of these lifts collapsed while lifting a heavy vehicle resulting in serious injury or death to the user. Tragically, this fictional episode had already become fact in May of last year when one of these imported lifts did , indeed, collapse in Oregon with a heavy vehicle on it. The technician died in the mishap, and serious injuries were sustained by his 16 year old son.

This incident triggered a review by the National Highway And Safety Administration (NHTSA) resulting in a product recall, and eventually a downgrade of the lift from 10,000lb to 7,000lb rated capacity. We will not waste time wondering who, where, what, or why. Suffice it to say we are all touched by this tragedy, and it is likely we all know why it happened.

Virtually every piece of equipment manufactured in North America uses CSA approved motors and switches, including vehicle lifts.

Caveat Emptor made its way all across North America, and, although my address is not shown, I did receive many e-mails, letters and phone calls. The question most frequently asked was “What regulations apply in Canada?”
The answer is none! The only approval with which you should comply is CSA (Canadian Standards Assoaciation), and this refers mainly to electrical component certification as it relates to our business. The US equivalent would be UL (Underwriter’s Laboratory).

Theoretically, you can buy equipment with non code (CSA) motors, switches, etc. however, if you check your insurance policies you may find that non compliance can result in refusal to cover any claims, even if the claim did not result from an electrical problem. Additionally, the Department of Labour has the power to shut down a shop with ‘unsafe’ equipment so non-CSA electrical components could be included in that category.

Fortunately, virtually every piece of equipment manufactured in North America uses CSA approved motors and switches, including vehicle lifts. If you are buying anything originating offshore however, look for that CSA approval which is usually displayed along with approval number on the motor nametag or moulded into the switch.

What about the lift itself? The best guarantee of lift integrity is for the lift to display the gold ALI/ETL (American Lift Institute) certification showing compliance to the provisions of ANSI/ALI-1998. ALI contracts with an outside testing laboratory (ETL) which is OSHA designated to carry out a third party testing program. ALI will not certify lifts which do not comply with the program.

If you log on to Autolift here (or simply punch in ‘ALI’) you will be able to download a ton of information, however, to summarize, approved lifts should be designed to a 3:1 standard and that they be third party tested (by ETL) to a 1.5:1 rated capacity. In other words, if it is rated at 10,000lb, it should be able to lift and sustain a load of 15,000lb with an ultimate destruct level of 30,000lb. This does not mean you can lift 15000lb but simply that you have this saftey margin to protect you, your employees, and your customer’s vehicles.

Other symbols you may see on lifts or on lift brochures are as follow:

ANSI - American National Standards Institute is a voluntary organization which establishes standards for a wide variety of items, including lifts. Membership is voluntary, so there is no guarantee other than the manufacturers own claim that the standards are being met. Nevertheless a reputable manufacturer would be foolhardy to claim compliance in writing, if untrue, and could be liable to litigation, in the event of an accident. ANSI is also involved in education programs and ISO certification accreditation. They can be reached at:

NHTSA - National Highway and Safety Administration is an agency of the Executive Branch of the US Government, and part of the Department of Transportation. It’s primary mandates are highway safety, vehicle standards, highway design, lighting standards, etc. They can, however, become involved in other matters related to the automotive fields, such as the disaster on Oregon, and as a branch of the US government they have the clout to make sweeping changes in anything they feel is their jurisdiction. They can be reached going here.

OSHA - Occupational Safety And Health Administration is part of the US Department of Labor, and, as you would guess, their main concern is workplace safety. With 2220 employees, 1100 inspectors, and a budget of 468.1 million, they also have considerable power and influence, and, often become involved in equipment safety. The best comparison would be a combination of our Dept of Labor and Workman’s Compensation.The American government agencies such as Osha and NHSTA tend to be very competitive in nature and several will become involved in high profile quality or safety matters, including many agencies not listed here.They can be reached by going here.

YCS - The most important standard, your common sense!
After purchase of a vehicle lift, most provinces require annual inspection and certification of Safety. This is usually handled by the Provincial Department of Labour. Virtually anyone can be a lift inspector. The criteria reads something likes this, ‘The lift must be inspected on an annual basis by a responsible third party’. Your grandmother is, probably, a responsible third party, as well as your local parson. In other words, anyone can be a lift inspector. What’s the point, then? The point is that this third party must inspect the lift, and if he/she feels it is safe, supply the owner with a document, so stating, and affix an inspection sticker certifying the lift is safe as at the date shown. They put their money where their mouth is! But, what if they have no money?

Here is where you come in. You would be very wise to require your lift ‘inspector’ to give you a copy of a valid liability insurance policy proving he is covered for at least two million dollars. Otherwise, what would be the point of telling you your lift is safe to use if he has no resources to cover a tragic injury or damage to a vehicle following his inspection.
You may also be wise to find out if he is qualified to inspect lifts. How long has he been doing this? Is he certified by a major lift manufacturer as an installer? Talk to another shop and ask what they thought of him.

The inspection is not just a requirement to spend fifty bucks for a sticker to get rid of the ‘Labour guy’ but a wise annual procedure to safeguard you and your employees, and it helps you to maintain lower insurance rates.

Finally, a lot of lift problems result from poor installations by careless, incompetent, or inexperienced installers. There is a science involved here. Just because someone knows the pointy end of the screwdriver goes into the hole in the screw doesn’t make them a mechanic.

If someone shows up in an old truck and asks your technicians to waste their valuable time helping him to move the lift components, borrows tools from them, has to keep reading the manual or using the phone and takes two days to finish, chances are you don’t have Mr.Lift, here.

You should ask him for three documents:

1. Certification from the lift manufacurer that this company or individual is certified by them to perform installations. This transfers much of the responsibility to the manufacturer.

2. Copy of liability insurance policy proving coverage for at least two million dollars. Surely a minimum price for a life!

3. Proof of Workman’s Compensation coverage. If this installer is injured on your premises, and he DOES NOT have WHSCC coverage, his claim could go on your coverage, since he was acting in the capacity of an employee while on site. We all know how expensive that could be!

Your common sense - the best certification!
Buy name brand products that you trust, from people you trust, serviced and installed by those you trust. Insist on proof of certification, insurance WHSCC coverage, and competence.

Remember, lives depend on your decisions!

You can Email John here