Lifting & handling - Tell tail signs06 June 2005

'One of the most highly-regulated pieces of ancillary equipment currently available for fitment to a vehicle, with specific responsibilities placed on the equipment manufacturer, installer, specifier and/or operator.' These words appear in the introduction to an early draft of a guide being published by SOE's IRTE sector. And they sum up nicely why just such a publication is needed.

Its author could hardly be better qualified for the task. He is John Holland who, for the past 22 years has worked for The Ray Smith Group, a Peterborough-based manufacturer of tail-lifts and demountable systems, and is now its design and technical sales director.

The guide is divided broadly into two sections: goods-vehicle tail-lifts, and tail-lifts for passengercarrying vehicles. Each section is sub-divided into four parts, related to the parties on which safe and lawful tail-lift operation depends: manufacturers, installers, specifiers and users.

Installer's responsibilities

Thanks to CE marking regulations, safe design and construction of tail-lifts now almost can be taken for granted, but still everything can go pear-shaped if an installer does a poor job. "Integration of the tail-lift with the bodywork is critical to the compliance of the tail-lift. If the correct interface is not achieved the taillift may be unsafe and non-compliant," says the guide. The installer is responsible for the lift's initial weight testing and for issuing the weight test certificate to the vehicle operator, together with user handbook, maintenance instructions and safety-inspection check list. And the installer must check that the installation does not cause the vehicle to contravene the Road Vehicle (Construction and Use) Regulations. "The most common areas requiring attention are the positioning of lights, number plate and rear under-run protection," warns the guide.

Specifier's responsibilities

The specifier has a crucial role to play. Operational safety considerations must take precedence over all others, including price, engineering preference and weight. The key phrase is one that underpins so much health-and-safety thinking these days - risk assessment. In this context it means assessing what a lift is meant to do and how it is likely to be used (and misused) in the real world. This assessment could even determine the choice between a column lift or cantilever lift, it is suggested.

Turning to tail-lift capacity, the guide urges readers to think about "load centres". A lift's rating normally assumes that the centre of its load is 600mm from the heel of the platform. So any platform deeper than 1,200mm should have a marking to indicate the maximum distance from the heel for the load centre of the lift's rated load. Calculation of the load and its centre must include the goods, the pallet/stillage/rollcage, the driver and maybe a pallet truck, too.

Choice and positioning of tail-lift controls are covered in detail. "Controlling the functions of the taillift is often neglected but is a very important issue, which if incorrectly specified can create a situation where the operator can be positioned in a place of danger," warns the guide. Some key criteria are laid down by the tail-lift standard BS EN 1756, but the IRTE guide explains that various interpretations of this can leave a user exposed to danger. The risk of feet or hands being trapped when a platform is raised or closed is the main concern. Someone using a wander-lead control can all-too-easily get their feet into a dangerous position. The IRTE guide interprets the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 1992 (and the HSE apparently agrees) as meaning that warning labels are not sufficient to guard against foottrapping when physical safeguards are available.

The angled beam cover on Ratcliff columnlifts, for example, cleverly serves to push feet out of the danger area as the heel of the lift rises to meet it. Foot controls (which must be at least 250mm from the platform's heel) ensure that feet are well out of harm's way but may be inconvenient. Ray Smith Group's answer is StepSafe, a pressure-sensitive strip running near the heel of the platform. Pressure on the strip causes the lift to stop moving.

User's responsibilities

The user's responsibility for care of a tail-lift includes routine maintenance and, since the introduction of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (commonly referred to as LOLER), "thorough examinations by a competent person" at intervals no longer than six months. Only when the lift never carries anybody (not even the operator/driver) can this interval be extended to a year. It is convenient if LOLER examinations coincide with the lift's routine maintenance, but six-monthly maintenance intervals are too long for many lifts. Those busy on multi-drop work or subject to frequent pressure-washing may be on four- or even threemonthly maintenance intervals. Ray Smith Group structures its standard tail-lift maintenance contract on four-monthly intervals, so customers normally have the LOLER examination at the same frequency rather than the six-monthly minimum. The guide points out, however, that the LOLER examination and the routine service must be separate procedures.

The completed LOLER examination report form must detail any work needed and its timescale. "On receipt of the report of thorough examination it becomes the legal responsibility of the user to ensure that any work required is carried out within the specified timescales," spells out the guide. Records must be kept for at least two years.

The guide makes no attempt to define "competent" in the context of who would be qualified to carry out LOLER "thorough examinations". "It is quite difficult to define, so we deliberately left it out for the purposes of this guide," says Holland.

He does advise, however, that a user who keeps tail-lift work in-house has to ensure that the person carrying out the LOLER examinations is vested with sufficient independence and authority. "If they are not empowered it is a pointless exercise," he says. Many companies resolve this by entrusting LOLER examinations to insurance company engineers.

There is no statutory need for further weight tests after the initial one carried out by the installer, even though annual test may be recommended by lift manufacturers, explains the guide. But a LOLER examination is needed after a lift's hydraulic cylinder has been replaced or it has suffered substantial accident damage, regardless of whether a sixmonthly examination is due. The tail-lift user is responsible for ensuring that the operator (normally the vehicle driver) understands and follows safe practices. This includes knowledge of the importance of load positioning (longitudinally and laterally) on the platform, and awareness of foot- and hand-trap risks. "The importance of tail-lift operator training must not be underestimated," says the guide, underlining that training records are essential.

As is the case with most equipment or machinery, comprehensive risk assessment is vital - as Holland points out, "not all dangerous situations are immediately apparent."

To purchase a copy of Tail Lift - a Specification Guide for Road Vehicles (£5.00 + VAT), email or call Sarah Prest on 020 7630 2127.


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