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Tail lift safety

Continuing the series of articles from the Association of Loading and Elevating Equipment Manufacturers (ALEM), Paul Addis , managing director of member company Ratcliff Palfinger Limited, discusses the impact of design, use and maintenance on the safety of tail lifts.

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It is usual to criticise the enforcement of Health and Safety regulations. Examples of over- zealous application of such rules in our daily lives feature in lurid headlines in the tabloid press “Elfin Safety are at it again...”

On the other hand, although tail lifts have a generally good safety record, when an accident does occur, the cost to the transport company is substantial - and the distress to the injured party and the family may be devastating.

So, just where do the regulations affecting tail lifts originate, and are they realistic and reasonable?

ALEM, directly, and via its representation on the BSI standards committee for lifting equipment MHE/12, makes representations to the UK authorities and Brussels to ensure that the requirements in the European Directive for Machine Safety are proportionate to the risks. This Directive has been encompassed in the laws of the Member States – including, of course, the UK. In the case of tail lifts, the relevant law is the Supply of

Although tail lifts have a generally good safety record, when an accident does occur, the cost to the transport company is substantial.

Machinery (Safety) Regulations. Backing up these Regs, and making them specific to tail lifts, are the European Standards, EN 1756-1 and EN 1756-2 for goods lifts and passenger lifts respectively. Again ALEM currently provides the UK delegation leaders to the committees responsible for writing these Standards.

This involvement of the tail lift manufacturers helps to ensure that Regulations and Standards are not only effective, but practicable too.

Safety by design

Analysis of tail lift accident statistics has shown that the risk of slipping on, or falling from, a tail lift platform represents a significant hazard. Accordingly, EN1756-1 is currently being reviewed, and a future amendment is likely to require the fitting of side guards or handrails to protect operators on the platform, together with the provision of high- grip platform surfaces.

The former issue is potentially contentious, some operators feeling that gates or guards would be expensive, interfere with manoeuvrability, delay operations and aggravate noise levels.

However, a number of leading manufacturers have anticipated this change in the Standard, by offering such devices as optional equipment. Considerable ingenuity has gone into the development of platform guards to overcome the transport industry’s reluctance to use them. For example, several of them deploy automatically as the platform is being opened.

Again, the industry has, for some time, offered optional platform surface treatments to provide enhanced slip resistance.

Whilst the provisions of the revised tail lift standard will not be applied retrospectively, many major UK fleet operators are already specifying handrails and slip-resistant coatings to anticipate the amendment and to achieve an immediate improvement in safety.

Safety in use

The law requires that tail lift operations Although tail lifts have a generally good safety record, when an accident does occur, the cost to the transport company is substantial. must be properly planned, the operator trained and adequate supervision provided. As part of this duty a risk assessment needs to be carried out.

These responsibilities are covered in the PUWER and LOLER regulations and the Management Regulations. Several ALEM tail lift manufacturers offer training in the users’ responsibility under this legislation.

One of the most important aspects of LOLER is the statutory requirement to carry out a Thorough Examination of the tail lift at intervals not exceeding 6 months. This obligation is backed by penalties under criminal law. Again, the leading manufacturers offer guidance and training on this subject.

Safe long term

Given that a tail lift has been designed and used properly, it is important that its maintenance programme ensures it remains safe – and reliable – throughout its life.

Major tail lift suppliers have country- wide service organisations who are trained and certified by the manufacturer to provide specialist support and maintenance, several of these offering a full 24/7 service.

Finally, any replacement parts required should be genuine spares sourced from the OEM. Whilst so-called ‘pattern parts’ are widespread in the market place, from printer ink cartridges to car exhaust pipes, tail lifts are industrial heavy-duty lifting equipment whose failure could have lethal consequences. Parts from the OEM will be to the same specification as those originally fitted on the lift, and in today’s market, prices are competitive.