Working under vehicles


Lifting plant and equipment can cause accidents if they are used unsafely or poorly maintained. Vehicles falling/rolling off incorrectly positioned jacks or stands, particularly where they are not chocked, are one of the main causes of fatal accidents in MVR. Working beneath a vehicle is often required to check for faults, servicing and repairs etc but because these tasks are so common people get used to working under potentially lethal weights. Unfortunately, serious and fatal accidents happen every year even though the dangers and precautions are well known.  You must always use the right equipment for the job. Don't be tempted to take short cuts or use inappropriate equipment to lift heavy items.

In particular, you should consider the following issues (more detail can be found in HSG261)

Use equipment correctly

  • Make sure there are safe working procedures in place when moving heavy loads, particularly when they are raised
  • Use the correct pins for axle stands - screwdrivers, nails and bolts are not acceptable
  • Use stands on a hard, level surface eg concrete and avoid lifting on sloping ground
  • Securely chock wheels remaining on the ground
  • Make sure that all lifting points for jacks and stands are correct for that vehicle - consult the vehicle manufacturer's handbook for guidance
  • Do not exceed the rated capacity (safe working load) of any lifting equipment
  • Ensure that vehicles are always properly supported - do not rely on jacks alone

Make sure lifting equipment is correctly installed

Make sure the floor and fixings meet the lift manufacturer's specification - if in doubt get specialist advice!

car with a trolley jack placed on a level surface
Car with trolley jack and axle stand on a firm, level surface
Collapsed lift with fallen car
Collapsed two-post lift
  • Once installed, the lift must be tested before it is used by a competent person, who will issue a certificate
  • Regularly check the fixing bolts with a torque wrench to ensure they remain tight

Maintain lifting equipment and train operators to use it correctly

  • Vehicle lifts need to be kept in good order. Follow the manufacturer's instructions and replace consumable items, such as lifting pads, before they become unsafe
  • Make sure employees evenly balance the lift for different types of vehicle and where major components (eg a gearbox) have been removed - knowing where the centre of gravity is important to prevent cars falling from a vehicle lift
  • Additionally for two post lifts, ensure that the arm locks are fully engaged and secure and that all the lifting pads are positioned correctly before raising the vehicle to full height (see Defective locking devices identified on modern 2-post lifts  and Risk of vehicles falling off two-post vehicle lifts in motor vehicle repair (MVR) for more information on two post lift safety).

Check equipment regularly and get it inspected

  • Vehicle lifts should be thoroughly examined periodically by a competent person, who should issue a 'Report of Thorough Examination'. It is recommended that this is done every six months. Although this should identify problems, it is not a replacement for regular in-house checks and maintenance (in the same way that you shouldn't rely on an MOT to keep your vehicle in good order)
  • Other lifting equipment (eg trolley and bottle jacks, engine hoist, vehicle mounted cranes) should be similarly examined every twelve months by a competent person (and Report of Thorough Examination issued)
  • Lifting accessories (eg chains and web slings) should be examined every six months by a competent person (and Report of Thorough Examination issued)
  • Other equipment which are critical for safely supporting loads such as props (for cabs and trailers) and axle stands should be inspected every 12 months by a competent person

Working away from the workshop

  • Make sure the ground if firm and level before raising a vehicle
  • If the area is unsuitable then move the vehicle to a safer place before any attempt is made to lift it to undertake any repairs

Always prop cabs and tipping trailers

Always prop cabs, trailers etc that could drop under their own weight

HGV cab Propped open
Prop for an HGV cab
Props under tipper
Props for a tipper lorry

If there is no prop fitted or if one is fitted but you are unsure it will be effective, then provide your own additional support.

Don't work beneath a vehicle with air suspension unless you prop it first.

Person working under vehicle
Limited clearance underneath a vehicle even with full suspension
  • Never crawl beneath a vehicle fitted with air suspension unless it is properly supported.
  • Don't try to adjust the ride height of air suspension for the purpose of recovery or repair.

For more information on working under buses and coaches fitted with air suspension see Safe recovery (and repair) of buses and coaches fitted with air suspension.

Case studies

  • A mechanic was replacing a gearbox with a car raised on a hydraulic trolley jack and two wheel removal jacks. The car slipped from the supports, crushing and killing him.
  • A trainee HGV fitter, working with an experienced mechanic, was fatally crushed when an HGV slipped from a hydraulic jack. Axle stands were available but not used. An almost identical accident, again involving a trainee working with an experienced fitter, happened three years earlier at a different company
  • Two men were using a chain block suspended from a gantry to remove an engine from a vehicle. As one turned his back on the raised load, the other moved the gantry, which fell onto his colleagues head, killing him. They were not following a safe system of work.
  • A car fell off a two post lift, killing the mechanic working below. The arms did not lock and the lifting pads were damaged or missing.
  • A tyre fitter went to change six tyres on a school coach parked on a sloping car park. Both rear nearside wheels and one offside wheel had been removed and he was in the process of jacking it up when it fell onto his head and chest, killing him.
  • A worker was standing at the end of a raised four post lift and pulled the car towards him. There were no end-stops on the lift and he was unable to stop the car falling off the lift onto him. He died in hospital from crush injuries. The lift had never been thoroughly examined and tested.
  • An HGV recovery fitter was crushed to death under the air-lifted axle of a tractor unit he was attempting to rescue from the roadside. No supplementary supports were used.

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Updated 2024-07-08