Going up 08 August 2011

How can tail lifts help to ensure that transport and passenger vehicles comply with health and safety legislation as well as making loading and unloading easier? John Kendall finds out

While tail lifts help to ensure compliance with legislation, they are also themselves subject to regulation. As items of lifting equipment, there is a range of legal requirements relating to their safe use and maintenance, which applies directly to the operators of the equipment. We shall look at the regulations later, but first, what types of tail lifts are now out there?

For vehicles under 7.5-tonnes gvw, there is a variety of types and sizes. Most lift manufacturers have developed specialist products designed for panel vans and light CVs in the 3,500kg gvw weight range. Typically, these can carry loads between 200 and 500kg. Larger lifts for heavy vehicles typically carry up to around 2,000kg.

Demand for light vehicle lifts has risen greatly in recent years, partly to satisfy legislation, such as manual handling regulations, and partly also to offer versatility for operators seeking dual use on vehicle such as 3,500kg tippers. Local authority fleet managers, for example, might want tippers to carry bulk loads but also items such as grass cutting equipment.

There are two basic constructions of tail lift – column and cantilever. A column lift only moves up and down, usually in a track. For light vehicles, lifts may use a single-column design, which inevitably restricts the weight and size of load that can be lifted. Twin column lifts are the most common types for larger vehicles.

Cantilever lifts move towards and away from the vehicle body, as they rise and fall. The advantage for light vehicles is that they can be used with a tow hitch fitted, because the lift moves clear of the fitment. The disadvantage for panel vans is that the lift will probably obstruct one or both rear doors, which may not suit the operator.

There are variations on these themes, and these include cantilever type lifts designed to provide a continuous horizontal ride. As explained above, cantilever lifts can replace the need for a rear closure, but column lifts still need one, even if it's a shutter covering just the top section. When not in use, cantilever lift platforms fold flat against the rear of the vehicle and can be locked in place.

Column lifts of this design may pose a problem for dock loading with light vehicles, because it may not be possible to move the lift low enough to clear the vehicle loading floor. But this is not usually an issue for larger vehicles with higher load floors. An alternative may be to provide a lift that will fold away underneath the rear of the vehicle, enabling it to be backed up to a loading dock without obstructing the rear opening.

Examples include Ratcliff Palfinger's Tukaway or Level Ride Retractable, DEL's Tuckunder, and Ross and Bonnyman's Slideaway and Easistow versions. All incorporate folding platforms for compact stowage.

Penny Hydraulics also produces a Steplift for panel vans, which operates in similar fashion, but the folded platform doubles as a rear step when stowed. The Ratcliff Level Ride Retractable, and Ross and Bonnyman Slideaway are cantilever type tail lifts but modified to provide a continuous horizontal ride, so overcoming the above mentioned drawback with some cantilever designs.

Regulations require side guards all round, or safety gates, for lifts that can be raised above 2m from the ground. In practice, many operators specify safety gates for lifts working below this maximum height, to guard against either operators or loads falling off. The guards may lift out from the platform for stowage when not in use, or may be attached to the bodywork or fold on to the platform.

Manufacturers also offer other safety equipment, such as roll stops to prevent roll cages from rolling off the platform. These may also double up as ramps to help access to the platform from the ground, before being reset vertically, to act as roll stops. Anti-slip finishes can also be applied.

Tail lift regulations
Tail lifts are covered by both LOLER (Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998) and PUWER (The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998). Failure to comply with either set of regulations is a criminal offence.

Key requirements of PUWER are that employers must ensure all work equipment provided is fit for purpose. A risk assessment is seen as desirable, but employers are obliged to consider ergonomics, and allow only competent and trained people to operate, repair and maintain equipment. They must also ensure that all equipment is in a good state of repair and follow documented suitable maintenance schedules. Information on controls, emergency stop buttons etc also contained in PUWER guidance notes.

In a same vein, LOLER places obligations on employers specific to lifting equipment and its operation. Employers must ensure that tail lifts and their mountings are strong enough and that loads are secure. In addition, lifting equipment for people must be designed and operated such that risk for operators and passengers is avoided.

Fleet operators should satisfy themselves on the installation of lifting equipment but also ensure that safe working conditions apply in use. Safe working loads should be marked on the equipment and, where intended to lift people, tail lifts must be marked as such. Other requirements specify that usage should be properly planned by a competent individual to address hazards identified in the risk assessment.

LOLER Regulation 9 requires the equipment user to have it 'thoroughly examined' by a 'competent person' (such as a service engineers trained on tail lifts by the manufacturers) at various stages in the life of the equipment. This individual must be independent, impartial and have the necessary technical skills to carry out the examination. A distinction is made in the regulations between persons competent to operate the equipment and those competent to examine and maintain it.

Thorough examination
LOLER requirements cannot be satisfied solely with a weight test or service inspection. While there are similarities with an MoT test, the statutory thorough examination (STE) is different. To satisfy the regulations, not only must the STE be carried out by a 'competent person', but also he or she must perform an in-depth investigation, extending well beyond overall equipment condition
The investigation may include inspection and testing, including of internal parts. Competent persons are required to have knowledge of how the lift works, relevant fault conditions, and an ability to diagnose early signs of failure and misuse.

Incidentally, an STE must not be combined with any repair work; it should be carried out as a separate exercise. Finally, the findings of the STE must be fully documented, as laid out in Schedule 1 of the regulations. And note, both PUWER and LOLER place responsibility for equipment use on the user, not the manufacturer.

Tail lift publications
SOE has published a number of guides and these can be downloaded from the SOE website http://www.soe.org.uk/publications/
Tail Lift – Specification Guide for Road Vehicles relevant information on tail lift regulations
Tail Lift Operators – a simple guide
Preventing Falls and Falling Loads from Tail Lifts

In addition, several manufacturers produce guides to legislation and regulations including Ratcliff Palfinger, DEL Equipment and Penny Hydraulics. These can be downloaded from the company websites.

John Kendall

Related Downloads

Related Companies
Del Equipment (UK) Ltd
Ratcliff Tailifts
Ross & Bonnyman Ltd
Society of Operations Engineers

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