Years ago, I collected information from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on the most common fatalities in the tire/vehicle service/maintenance fields. The data concluded that lifting accidents were the number one cause of fatalities from 2010-2014. Since then, the industry has done a good job of educating technicians on the importance of proper vehicle lifting procedures.
By far the most important message has been the use of jack stands. Hydraulic jacks are designed to lift and position a load. They are not intended as support devices and may fail if used in that way. Without a mechanical lock, there will always be a chance that the jack fails and causes the vehicle to crash to the ground. When jack stands and/or cribbing are properly utilized, the chances of that type of accident are greatly reduced.
The next step is to designate and identify the lifting and support points for trucks, tractors and trailers. Current industry guidelines call for technicians to use the axle or anything directly connected to the axle or frame. For most trailers, the abundance of space makes it easy to position a jack and jack stand under the axle end. However, when it comes to lifting trucks and tractors, the process becomes a lot more complicated.
First of all, all of the manufacturers of trucks or suspension/driveline systems do not support lifting a drive or tag axle at the differential. Despite the obvious advantage of lifting the middle of the axle (in most cases) so jack stands can be positioned on the ends, the practice is not openly recognized by any manufacturer or industry organization.
One could even call it “mysterious” silence since this is not the first time the issue has been addressed. The Technology and Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations released a recommended practice on truck/tractor/trailer lifting a few years ago but was unable get the lift and support point information from the manufacturers.
Hopefully, there will be a renewed effort to define the lifting and support points for trucks, tractors and trailers. Each manufacturer would be given another opportunity to provide the safety guidelines that technicians need to make the best decisions when lifting their vehicles.
Given all the different configurations of drivetrain and suspension systems, there would be some gaps after everything is said and done. There are simply too many variations to account for everything that is on the road. However, I have no doubt that we could provide useful information regarding the specific placement of hydraulic jacks to lift the vehicle and jack stands to support the most common trucks and tractors.
For the owner and/or operator of the vehicle, using the incorrect lift and support points could have serious consequences. Besides the obvious safety risk to the technician working on the vehicle, there are mechanical issues that may be caused by improper lifting. While they are isolated and uncommon, preventable damage to driveline and suspension components qualifies as a safety hazard, not to mention an unnecessary expense.
As an industry, we should never be satisfied with the current level of safety. We must stay focused on achieving the goal of making it as safe as possible; as good as it may be at any given time, it can always be better. Inflation accidents continue to happen when OSHA-compliant equipment is not used and OSHA guidelines are not followed. I’ve been beating the drum on trajectory and assembly restraint for decades, yet some people still stand in front of the sidewall during inflation and/or inflate an unrestrained tire.
We can prevent most vehicle lifting accidents. All it’s going to take is a renewed effort with the cooperation of the truck, tractor, trailer, drivetrain and suspension manufacturers.
It could start with some of the most common configurations and then expand as more information becomes available. It could evolve into the manufacturers using identical symbols to indicate the lift points, like they do in the automotive industry. In 2017, technicians should not have to guess where they position the jack and jack stand when lifting a vehicle.
Let’s hope that changes in 2018.