Hydraulic jack use without a jack stand can be expensive and dangerous
Even though Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Standard 29 CFR 1910.177 does not specifically mention the necessary equipment and training that must be in place when lifting a vehicle, it still falls under the OSHA Act of 1970 that was passed to improve workplace safety. Also known as the General Duty Clause, Section 5 states that each employer must provide a place of employment that is free from recognized hazards that could cause serious injury or death. Therefore, when technicians lift trucks or trailers with hydraulic jacks, they are definitely covered by OSHA.
The consequences of improperly lifting a large truck or trailer are often severe if something goes wrong while the technician is under the vehicle. That's why all of the hydraulic jack manufacturers recommend the use of a jack stand. Jacks are designed to lift the vehicle while jack stands are designed to support the weight. When jacks are used without jack stands, a small seal is the only thing protecting the technician from a fatal crushing injury. That's why the weight must be transferred from the jack to the jack stand so the vehicle is mechanically locked out. Unfortunately, too many technicians use a practice called “shock loading” where the jack stand is placed under the vehicle to act as a stop but the weight remains on the jack. Since jack stands are not rated for this type of load, they may or may not offer any protection when used in this manner.
Besides the obvious safety risks, there are also some tool and equipment costs to consider. If a jack is continually used to lift and support the weight of a vehicle, the usable lifespan will decrease. On the other hand, when the jack is used to lift the vehicle so the full weight can be transferred to the jack stand, the jack stands will probably wear out faster than the hydraulic jacks. Given the cost difference between the two, bottom-line managers can save a lot of money on jacks if they are properly used in conjunction with jack stands.
When it comes to working on trailers, the jack and jack stand combination is usually quite simple. There is plenty of room at the end of each axle so the technician can easily position the jack and jack stand; however, the same cannot be said for the tractor. With limited space on the end of each axle, it can be difficult to lift and support a drive axle with a jack and jack stand without using the differential as the lifting point. When the vehicle is empty, the risks are minimal. But when the vehicle is fully loaded, using the differential as a lifting point can be problematic.
Unfortunately, there is a vacuum of information regarding the lifting points on large trucks when compared to the passenger and light truck industry. Vehicle manufacturers provide the recommended lift points for every make and model to the Automotive Lift Institute (ALI) so an annual yearbook can be published and distributed to the aftermarket. As it stands today in the automotive tire industry, technicians do not have to guess when determining the positions of the lifting arms on most domestic and foreign light vehicles.
There are a few published guidelines in place for lifting trucks, most of them communicated by the Tire Industry Assn. or the Technology & Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Assns. But they are very general in nature and are nowhere near the detail provided by ALI. If the drivetrain and truck manufacturers have an issue with using the differential as a lifting point, then they need to step up to the plate with a solution or it will be business as usual.
Kevin Rohlwing can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org