Lift Mx: It's the Law

Would you be surprised if an OSHA inspector visited your shop and asked to see your lift maintenance log? That request may be made as part of a Local Emphasis Program in part of OSHA Region 8 since October 2005. Gregory Baxter, OSHA regional administrator, describes the agency’s effort to “reduce the incidence of serious injury or death from hazards associated with automotive lifts…” According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 15,000 people annually are treated in hospitals for injuries resulting from the use of automotive lifts, jacks and jack stands. Many of these injuries can be prevented by following the proper maintenance, inspection and use guidelines.

Maintaining an automotive lift also makes practical sense. You’re well aware of the need for preventive maintenance on the vehicles in your fleet to forestall major repairs down the road. The same is true of your lifts.

Productivity studies conducted by fleets and independent truck maintenance providers have found that a single vehicle lift can add $100,000 or more to the bottom line either in annual profits or reduction in labor overhead. But if a lift goes down for repair, productivity drops right along with it. In fact, without a lift, bay productivity can be cut in half.

Lift maintenance isn’t difficult. Start by following the manufacturer’s specific maintenance, adjustment and lubrication recommendations in the owner’s manual for each lift. Maintenance procedures and frequencies vary for different styles and brands of vehicle lifts. The owner’s manual will cover the specific needs for each one.

Proper lubrication is crucial to maintaining optimal vehicle lift performance and longevity. Lifts that don’t get the lubrication they need may operate less efficiently and wear faster. Remove dirt and debris from connectors and linkages, and spray cables and chains with high-quality penetrating oil monthly. This is especially important for lifts that are driven by cables or chains, such as four-post lift models. Be sure to use penetrating oil designed for this type of application, rather than one intended for light household use. The lift’s sheave/pulley axle pins should be lubricated with penetrating oil, as well. Also use the penetrating oil to lubricate the locking latch system assemblies’ pivot points.

Inspect lifts frequently for proper operation. Instruct technicians to perform a quick, daily inspection of the lifts they use at the start of each shift. Any issues with a lift should immediately be reported to a supervisor, who should resolve the issue before the lift is used.

In addition to these regular inspections, a factory-authorized technician should perform annual lift inspections on all of your lifts. Your lift manufacturer can recommend authorized service companies in your area.

While some specifics will vary between lift styles, at a minimum each lift should be inspected for the following:

  • Operating manuals, safety warning labels and the rated load capacity decal are accessible to lift operators.
  • There is adequate clearance around the lift.
  • There are no leaks.
  • Any signs of fatigue, overloading, excessive wear, misuse or abuse of all accessible structural components are reported.
  • All components are set to the proper tolerances.
  • All safety systems are present and working properly.
  • Anchor bolts are tight and there are no cracks in the floor.
  • Power unit fluid is not contaminated.
  • Arms and adapters move freely and operate smoothly (if applicable).
  • The lift rises and retracts fully at normal speed with no unusual noises.

Although most routine maintenance can be performed by lift operators, annual inspections, repairs and certain maintenance tasks, like seal replacement or pressure testing, should only be undertaken by qualified lift service personnel.

Over the life of your lifts, you will likely need to replace some wear items. The Automotive Lift Institute (ALI) recommends using OE parts to ensure proper fit and function. Aftermarket parts are reverse-engineered and may not use the same materials or incorporate the latest design changes. Using aftermarket parts on a third-party-certified lift also may void that lift’s certification.

ALI offers general lift maintenance and inspection guidelines in a variety of materials, including a new training manual and DVD. Visit the organization’s Web site at for details.

Roger Perlstein is the national sales manager for Rotary Lift’s Commercial Truck and Transit Division. He is a former lift distributor and is a 30-year veteran of the lift industry. Roger holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Northeastern University and resides in upstate NY with his wife and his two children.