‘Give us the tools and we will finish the job’ is just as relevant to workshop fittings as it was in Winston Churchill’s time. As low quality, or inappropriate tools, will make workshop tasks harder and less profitable, Rob Marshall asks the garage equipment association (GEA) primarily about its concerns regarding lifts and ramps.
The quality of hardware is critical to the successful completion of a repair but also for the health and safety and wellbeing of workshop staff. While toolboxes and many hand tools may be supplied by technicians who have the freedom to select the quality that is dependent greatly on budgets and personal preferences, ramps, lifts, compressors and other equipment that is bolted-down is the responsibility of the garage and its management. This means that selection, installation, regular maintenance, repairs and training should be part of everybody’s workshop quality remit, as well as the garage’s Duty of Care and obligations, notwithstanding management mitigating their Corporate Manslaughter exposure.
‘WE COULD BE LIFTED…’
Like many other industries, falling into the low-quality trap is easy, be it via the choice of equipment, installation, maintenance, or training. Sadly, the garage equipment market suffers from sub standard offerings, poor maintenance and insufficient training. This affects, perhaps, the most safety-critical tool of all: the vehicle lift. While safety is improving all of the time, lift-related technician fatalities are reported every year and, thus, we sought the advice of Julian Woods, Chief Executive of the Garage Equipment Association (GEA), who emphasises the organisation’s role of upholding standards to reduce the incident rate. As the GEA is the trade association for anyone that sells and maintains garage equipment, its remit is not restricted solely to ramps and lifts but it has also made significant in-roads to improve the quality and safety of lifting equipment.
MAKING THE RIGHT CHOICE
Waiting for an elderly lift to fail before replacing it is a false economy. Aside from any potential safety risks, the breakdown causes not only inconvenience but also restricts workshop capacity. As with any business plan, budgeting for periodic replacement of elderly equipment is critical, especially with something as crucial to workshop through-flow as a lift.
When looking to invest in new hoist hardware, obviously, it must form part of the garage’s business plan and this may not mean necessarily replacing like-for-like. For example, the issues of upgrading an MOT ramp to an automated test lane (ATL) was considered in the September issue of AT but, even if you decide to replace like-for-like, do source ramps from a trustworthy business. Should any warranty issues arise, you will want the business not to have gone bankrupt soon after you have bought the equipment to address your issues. The GEA’s Mr Woods recommends that,
“As with many things in life, buying cheaper is not always the most economical solution in the long term, especially when it is your livelihood, or even your life, that is being put at risk; we would always suggest buying from a reputable supplier.”
He emphasises that trusting GEA members to supply your new equipment adds extra peace of mind, because all of them sign-up to a code of conduct every year, ensuring that any equipment supplied would comply with the relevant UK legislation and be of a sufficient quality to cope with the rigours of professional workshop life. This is an important consideration, because it has been reported that a number of new lifts are failing prematurely due to inherent manufacturing defects, presumably to keep the build and purchase prices down. The basic advice in these cases is that, should a lift appear to be too cheap to be true, then it most likely is.
The situation has become so concerning that the UK (involving the expertise of several GEA members) and a number of countries on continental Europe have just concluded a review to assess and improve the safety and quality of two-post lifts on the market. A further issue is that UK and EU markets are receiving a number of new workshop lifts that bear CE marks but did not meet the relevant safety and quality regulations. Yet, CE marks are used for a variety of products and non- compliance is far from unusual, so, maybe, we should not be entirely shocked. An extra check to verify compliance with EN1493, the EU Harmonised Standard for Vehicle Lifts, will help if you are unsure. In any case, these unsafe lifts were identified and removed from sale subsequently but only after a number of workshops had invested in them. To keep up to date with the latest safety issues that have been identified, log onto the European Commission’s Rapid Alert System (RAPEX) website; enter ‘vehicle lift’ in the ‘dangerous products’ search alert bar or consult the GEA for advice.
This shows that you cannot rely solely on UK and EU enforcement laws to protect you against a low-quality lift purchase, as Julian Woods explains:
“A number of different agencies enforce UK and European legislation but not one individual body oversees everything.”
Several years ago, the GEA acted directly to improve the installation and inspection of vehicle lifts, by not only imparting detailed information though its online resource, publishing its own “Safe Operation of Vehicle Lifts” booklet (which can be purchased from the GEA) but also developing its own lift engineer assessment programme. This enables garages to engage engineers whom they can trust to know the regulations and ensure that the relevant equipment complies. With Julian reporting that the GEA’s registered number of 475 lift engineers is growing, the scheme has been such a success that it has expanded into the MOT equipment arena, which evaluates engineers’ knowledge on DVSA installation and calibration requirements. Therefore, aside from the Lift Engineer accreditation course, the GEA also provides its members with training for MOT Engineers and MOT Sales Consultants, too.
Garage employers have a legal responsibility to ensure that any lifts are installed and certified to BS7980, have a thorough examination before being used, then inspected twice annually by a certified competent person and also serviced regularly thereafter. They should also be conducting their own risk assessment on the use of the lift and record it to ensure they meet other H&S requirements. These basic steps help to ensure compliance specifically with the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER), plus the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment regulations (LOLER). Ignoring these requirements can be costly. Earlier this year, Renault Retail UK pleaded guilty to breaching these Health and Safety rules and was fined £200,000 and ordered to pay costs of £17,218. This related to a repeated failure to ensure that four vehicle lifts at two of its main dealerships were maintained correctly. In its post-statement hearing, the HSE said, “This resulted in its workers using faulty vehicle lifts, which put technicians in danger”.
Yet, professional differences in opinion can emerge between insurance inspectors and lift maintenance engineers, which can create confusion for garage owners.
“This situation can occur, because many insurance inspectors have to cover many disciplines of lifting equipment, whereas our members are specialists in the vehicle lift market and requirements,” explains Mr Woods, adding, “This is where the GEA can assist as an arbitrator when required.”
It is also important to realise that, just because a lift passes a safety inspection, it still needs regular maintenance. A similar analogy is the difference between an MOT and a routine service.
TECHNICIAN TRAINING AND GARAGE RESPONSIBILITIES
Instructing technicians how to use a new lift, including being familiar with its safety systems, may seem elementary but it is an essential part of an installer’s job. Consider also that most workshop incidents involve vehicles falling from lifts, face- to-face instructions can be followed-up by training videos; GEMCO, for example, is one such provider that offers both services.
Technicians also need to ensure that they are always aware of the risks involved with working on raised vehicles. Shifts in weight distribution, such as when removing an engine/ gearbox, could increase the risk of the vehicle falling off the ramp, as can applying pressure against an extension bar to unscrew a tight bolt.
Manufacturers and the GEA advise that daily, weekly and monthly routine ramp checks should be carried-out by the relevant technician using it. Any faults, which may include worn rubber pads, damaged lifting arms, missing pins, or leaking hydraulics, as examples, should be reported to anybody that can authorise a repair, or insist that the ramp is not used. Guidance on what should be checked should be sourced from the lift manufacture, the GEA, or your lift service provider.
You may not be familiar with the family-owned Böck GmbH of Austria but it supplies high quality rubber pads to a number of quality lift manufacturers that equip modern workshops. Just as many garages take pride in fitting parts to customers’ cars that are at least to OE quality, why fit non-OE quality replacement components to your ramps?
Böck reiterates our concerns about vehicles falling from ramps but the company reveals not only do worn rubber pads increase the danger, but they also raise the risk of vehicle damage. However, like the lifts themselves, Böck is also anxious about an influx of cheap Far-Eastern imports of rubber lift parts and not just because of their compromised lifespan (as pictured). This is because the design parameters of good quality ramp arm pads are more involved beyond that which is immediately obvious, so it is easy to buy on price alone, without considering the technical implications. Apart from having a far longer life, Böck states that rubber pads must maintain a certain compliance, to insure against damage to the vehicle’s underbody, but they must possess a memory to return to the original shape, when relieved of the vehicle’s weight.
Far-Eastern low-grade rubber parts that can be identified by an oily surface and a strong smell also tend not to comply with EU REACH regulations on chemicals; the plasticiser within which can penetrate the skin and enter the circulatory system, which is proven to raise the risk of cancer developing.
Böck told us it guarantees the highest possible quality by not only developing but also manufacturing its pads within Europe. It is growing its range and its UK presence.
For more information, consult www.boeck-gmbh.at to access the online part finder service. Böck products are distributed via many garage equipment suppliers in the UK.
5 FACTS ABOUT THE GEA
– Dedicated to upholding standards in the garage equipment market, not just lifting equipment.
– Approximately 130 members in the UK alone.
– Membership varies from large corporate manufacturers, equipment distributors to smaller, independent maintenance outfits.
– Full membership is tailored towards companies in direct contact with equipment.
– Associate membership broadens the remit and includes quality finance suppliers and publishing companies.