The Occupational Health and Safety Admin. systematically is inspecting vehicle lifts, including ones at dealership service operations.

Given some of the knuckleheaded things I’ve seen technicians do to keep an improperly working lift “useful,” this news might save a life. 

Dealers should have their service and body-shop lifts inspected annually and properly maintained. Compile and properly maintain all lift maintenance records. These preliminary steps will help ensure compliance to OSHA’s Local Emphasis Program for inspecting automotive lifts.

These records include inspection sheets and logs and certificates stating the lift is ready for use or that it is locked out until the problem is fixed.

OSHA’s lift inspections started in Hawaii. Inspectors have started visiting dealerships in Oklahoma and Wisconsin.

An OSHA press release said, “OSHA compliance officers will begin conducting random inspections to identify and evaluate hazards of lifts used in the automotive industry, including at automobile dealerships.”

A memo from the Wisconsin Automobile & Truck Assn. to its members said, “OSHA will be paying you a visit…OSHA typically systematically sweeps the entire dealer body throughout the state.”

We would assume this is just the beginning of a nationwide lift-inspection march.

Lifts are so well designed today operators can take their continued safe operation for granted and neglect proper maintenance. Unfortunately, when lifts do malfunction for whatever reason, production-focused technicians will often implement makeshift “fixes” so work can continue.

Consider this example. A dealership technician bypassed the release valve by placing a wrench in the handle to lock it in a down position.

He did this so the lift would lower while he went to the parts department to pick up his parts. While the technician was away, one side of the lift locked. The car on it fell off. It landed on another car in an adjacent stall, almost crushing the technician working there. This fix ended up damaging both automobiles. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

Lift injuries and fatalities have been an OSHA concern for years. The fines can be very substantial. In 2009, a California tech lost a finger while lowering a lift. OSHA’s fine was $19,400.

In 2011, a Colorado service center, after repeat violations, including unsafe and unstable lifts, earned the dealership a $76,000 fine. In Boston, lift failure causing a vehicle to fall off resulted in a $19,000 OSHA fine.

With OSHA inspections, either lifts pass the test or the owner gets fined.

Since 2007, the federal regulator has conducted inspections after 11 fatalities related to lifts, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported 15,000 workers have received hospital treatment for lift, jack, or jack stand injuries.

No dealership wants its employees put in harm’s way by improperly working automotive lifts. Nor can they afford how these accidents affect workers compensation policy rates or community relations.

In the face of impending OSHA inspections, dealers ask: “How can we be prepared?”

A place to start is to review the maintenance documents. A next sound step is to commission your own inspection. A qualified individual with extensive knowledge of all the various lifts should conduct these inspections.

Inspections should include the hydraulic system, valves, hoses, cables, chains, pins, spindles, the electrical system, ramps, runway stops, locks and safety features.

An unbiased third-party typically performs better inspections and identifies actual and potential areas of concern. These can be corrected and lifts can be in good working order should OSHA suddenly stop by.

This is especially important: lift operators should receive refresher maintenance and safety training. People who operate lifts must be trained on the type of lift they use. Keep records of all training, too.

This not only is to be ready for an OSHA inspection, but moreover to ensure worker safety.

Ed Gibbons is a fixed-operations consultant with Automotive Compliance Consultants. He can be contacted at egibbons@compliantnow.com