Be sure to do your due diligence
If buying a used car seems fraught with potential wallet-busting headaches, how
much more so is purchasing used aerial work platforms (AWPs)? When it comes to this type of equipment, the danger doesn’t just lie in incurring costly repairs. Instead, safety and liability are even more worrisome issues that require sufficient due diligence on the part of the buyer. Failure to exercise appropriate concern can result in disaster and expensive claims, as the following examples illustrate:
- A used towable boom lift was purchased by a rental business that put it into service without conducting a pre-delivery inspection. Consequently, the fact that several bolts were missing from the lift’s base went undetected. The lift was rented out and when the renter extended the boom, the remaining bolts, unable to hold the weight, sheared off. The lift fell over, throwing the renter to the ground. The absence of a pre-delivery inspection was considered gross negligence, resulting in the rental store paying punitive damages, the renter’s medical expenses and lost wages, and damages for pain and suffering.
- A rental operator put a newly purchased, used boom lift into service without first conducting the required inspection. The renter raised the boom without first extending the outriggers, causing the top-heavy lift to tip over. The accident investigation revealed that the lift’s original owner had disabled the safety mechanism that kept the bucket from rising if the outriggers weren’t extended. If the new owner had conducted the proper inspection, he would have noticed this bypassed safety feature and corrected it. Instead, the renter suffered a severe spinal cord injury that paralyzed him from the chest down and the rental store was held significantly liable for the renter’s injuries.
Andy Fliege, president of Davenport, Iowa-based Aerial Platform Experts, knows the value of giving used equipment a thorough inspection. Fliege’s company rents, sells, services and refurbishes AWPs and forklifts. He buys and sells used equipment and says that in both instances, maintenance and record keeping are the biggest issues.
Federal standards, including Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, require several different inspections on lifts, the most extensive of which is every 12 months. Surprisingly, some of Fliege’s customers who bring their equipment in for repairs or servicing don’t know about the inspection requirements.
How is this possible?
“Nowadays, you have all kinds of people buying lifts,” he explains. “They’re commonly purchased by painters, electricians, pipe fitters, plumbers and so on, and they’re just not aware of the regulations.”
Fliege seldom purchases used equipment that doesn’t come with a complete maintenance file. In the rare instances when he does, it’s always from a “major company” and never from a small operation, he emphasizes, adding that some large companies’ record keeping have fallen through the cracks because of personnel cutbacks. This places even more onus on buyers to be painstaking in their inspections.
“Structurally, these lifts never wear out, but the motor, hydraulics and hoses need attention,” he says. “The biggest issue seems to be electrical, such as corroded terminals and relays, because of exposure to the elements.”
To prevent accidents from improperly maintained lifts and to protect themselves from liability when accidents do occur, rental operators purchasing used AWPs should:
- Have the equipment inspected by a mechanic qualified on the specific make and model of the machine before putting it into service.
- Obtain manuals from the seller or request them from the manufacturer.
- Provide their contact information to the manufacturer.
- Obtain copies of all maintenance records. Fliege, for example, always provides buyers with complete maintenance records. Also ask for the Annual Machine Inspection (AMI) report, generated as a result of the OSHA-required inspection.
Buyers of used equipment aren’t the only ones vulnerable in the case of equipment malfunction and subsequent accident or injury — sellers can be held liable too, which is why it’s essential to keep copies of all maintenance records, and to document that they have fully informed the buyer of inspection requirements and have provided them with all necessary manuals or how to obtain them. They also should keep a record of the sale that includes the delivery date, machine’s serial number, and the buyer’s name and address.
“Everyone’s looking for record keeping,” says Fliege. “You’re going to have liability whenever you touch an aerial platform, but the best protection is creating a paper trail.”
Customers of ARA Insurance can log on to ReSource at ARAinsure.com for a copy of Rental Management’s Safety Corner on Aerial Work Platforms.
Maura Paternoster is risk manager for ARA Insurance in Kansas City, Mo. For more information, call 800-821-6580 or visit ARAinsure.com.