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Buyers Beware: Online Sales of Vertical Platform Lifts

The picture here is of a lift installed in Florida in a commercial building without a permit or inspection. The vertical platform lift was called portable equipment” by the contractor who installed it to bypass the State requirement for a permit and inspection. Obviously, it is not portable but the more serious issue is it has no platform gate or upper landing gate required by code. Certainly not what we would call Accessibility with Dignity. Obviously this was done to cut corners and save money but whatever the building owner ended up paying for this lift was too much!

There is nothing wrong, necessarily, with buying a lift on line direct from a manufacturer or re-seller but often the websites or listings selling a lift direct to anyone with a credit card do not advise the buyer what else is needed to achieve a code compliant and safe installation. 

It is so important to go to a qualified and experienced local accessibility contractor to not only sell you a lift but to sell you a complete package including the permit, installation, inspection and of course ongoing maintenance, call back service and a solid warranty to back up their installation.

It is important to hire a local accessibility contractor who has a good relationship with their suppliers first of all because if you buy the lift direct and something goes wrong your only recourse is to ship it back and that may not always result in a refund. 

Vertical Platform Lifts are elevator devices and require permits and inspections in most jurisdictions and there are fines for doing work without a permit in most States.

Do you or whoever is installing the lift have proper elevator constructor’s liability insurance? This can be a big concern for a building owner if an accident ever occurs in the future.

Is the lift certified to the national safety standards? ASME A18.1 Safety Standard for Vertical and Inclined Platform Lifts and Stairway Chair Lifts and A17.5 Electrical Equipment Standard are the two main ones that apply. The lift must have the code required data tags that reference these standards.

Even to purchase a lift with the correct features and options requires education in the standards. There are rules about lighting, communication, platform enclosures; runway enclosures and ramps to name a few.

It is not enough, however, to buy a lift that is manufactured to these standards with the correct options for the application involved. The constructed space around the lift also determines whether the lift is installed to code. For example, running clearances, shear hazards and pinch points need to be addressed. Proper support for bearing the loads imposed on the building is another concern. There are technical requirements in the safety standards that demand some study and experience in order to install a lift correctly and safely. 

Compliance with ICC/ANSI A117.1 is also required by State Building Code. This is the usability standard governing compliance with issues such as approach to swing doors, ramps, operating controls, when power door operators are required, the size of platforms and entrances and much more. 

ICC/ANSI A117.1 is closely related to the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) so compliance with ICC/ANSI A117.1 will give you confidence that you comply with the ADA

When a website or listing online for sale of a vertical platform lift says it complies with the ADA (as I saw on Ebay recently) be aware they are only stating something about the lift (that may or may not be true) not anything about the application. It is how and where the lift is installed in the building that determines if you comply with ADAAG or ICC/ANSI A117.1

If you are installing the lift as a convenience and it is not required or you are installing in a private dwelling where the ADA does not apply that is one thing but if you are installing a vertical platform lift in a public accommodation to meet the requirements for accessibility under the ADA then you are on an accessible route and you must comply with ASME A18.1 and ICC/ANSI A117.1as well. 

Attendant-operated devices like portable stair climbers or manually operated lifts are what is exempted from ASME A18.1 as portable equipment”.

Calling a vertical platform lift portable does not get you out of compliance. Whether the lift is put in place for one event or is moved from place to place or installed permanently, if it is put in place on an accessible route to meet the requirements of the ADA for user operation then it is a vertical platform lift not portable equipment”.

Recently, we received an inquiry from a General Contractor who purchased a vertical platform lift for self-installation. After this Contractor installed the lift himself, the local Building Inspector found out and informed him of the need for a permit and inspection of the equipment. When he called the manufacturer he was told that because the lift was portable, it was not covered by the ASME A18.1 Safety Standard. The Building Inspector, however, pointed out to the Contractor that the installed lift was on an accessible route in the building, so the ADA and State Law required that the lift comply with the ASME A18.1 Safety Standard. 

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Doug Boydston

Doug Boydston founded Handi-Lift, Inc. with his parents in 1975 and became President of the company in 1990. Mr. Boydston is a Past President of National Association of Elevator Contractors and past chairman of the Accessibility Committee of NAEC. He is a member of NAEC and the Accessibility Equipment Manufacturers Association. Mr. Boydston is also active in codes at the local, State and National levels and is Chair of the main committee of the ASME A18.1 Safety Standard for Platform Lifts and Stairway Chairlifts.

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