A growing number of businesses operating light commercials are opting to fit tail lifts or light cranes to reduce the risk of workers suffering back injuries.

They realise that a bad injury can result in an employee taking legal action against them for failing to provide the equipment needed to lift and manoeuvre heavy items. As a consequence they may end up facing a hefty bill for compensation, not to mention substantial legal costs.

They may also find they are in court for breaking the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992.

Legal action isn't the only cause for concern, however. Back trouble can lead to a key worker being off sick for weeks on end and may mean they're incapable of returning to their previous job. Somebody will have to be found to fill their role, either temporarily or permanently, and that may not be easy.

Avoiding employee injury — and possible litigation — isn't the only reason for investing in mechanical handling aids. They can improve efficiency by speeding up the time it takes to deliver goods, result in reduced damage to consignments — no more dropping vulnerable packages out of the back of a Luton — and cut wage bills too.

It may be possible to complete deliveries that used to require two people with just one thanks to judicious use of a tail-lift.

The choice of tail-lifts suitable for light commercials is almost bewildering, with more new products arriving regularly from a list of suppliers that includes Ross and Bonnyman and DEL Equipment.

Ratcliff Palfinger

Ratcliff Palfinger is promoting the 500kg capacity U Frame Flexi-Lift tail-lift. Suitable for 3.5-tonners, it is designed in such a way that there is no need for the rear light clusters to be moved during fitting and weighs either 115kg or 150kg depending on the exact specifications.

Hinged ramps for the platform are on offer as an option as are a non-slip surface, roll stops on certain sizes of platform and drop-in safety gates. All sorts of other safety devices are built into tail lifts and cranes these days to stop them being overloaded or becoming unstable and to prevent them from trapping peoples fingers and toes.

Moving up the weight scale, Ratcliff Palfinger has just introduced a lightweight 1,000kg-capacity tuckaway lift suitable for 7.5-tonners. It comes with a folding, 1,150mm-deep by 2,000mm-wide aluminium platform fitted with two torsion springs for ease of operation and weighs a modest 225kg,

That excludes the floor end plate designed to stop moisture entering the vehicle's cargo area during cleaning and bad weather.

Like Flexi-Lift, it also comes with restart protection as an option. It's a device that ensures power isn't drained from the vehicle's battery by tail lift usage to such an extent that the engine won't start.

Ratcliff Palfinger has also developed an all-aluminium 1,000kg-capacity tail-lift suitable for box-bodied 7.5-tonners with a platform that can double as the rear closure, eliminating the need for a roller shutter door. It's in service with County Car and Van Hire among others.

Ray Smith Group

Not to be outdone, Ray Smith Group is busy promoting its new up-and-over tail lift.

It will raise either 300kg or 400kg depending on the version specified. Designed to be fitted inside a van's load area just behind the rear doors, it comes with a 1,500mm-long by 1,300mm-wide platform that is stowed beneath the roof.

Penny Hydraulics 

Crane and tail-lift supplier Penny Hydraulics has just launched a tail lift suitable for 4×4 pick-ups. Known as Easyloader it will lift 550kg.

It has a cantilever action which means that no under-slung columns, ropes or chains can snag on the ground when driving over rough terrain. It also means that the platform moves away from the back of the vehicle as it is lowered to the ground, allowing a standard tow bar to be fitted.

Under an agreement between Penny Hydraulics and Nissan the latter's D22 pick-up can be ordered complete with an Easyloader or a Swing Lift crane. Different versions of Swing Lift can be specified for D22 with capacities of up to 500kg.

Penny's entire crane line-up encompasses equipment that will raise up to 2,000kg. Its Swing Lift V Range V20 will cope with that amount of weight at an unextended boom length of 1.4m and will hoist 770kg at its maximum reach of 3.5m.

The firm also offers Winchpack, a self-contained electric winch and rope assembly that can be used on any light commercial with a towbar — that's where it's mounted — to provide extra load handling capabilities. With a line pull capacity of as much as 2,238kg, depending on the version selected, it comes with rope lengths of up to 27m.

That is in addition to specialist equipment for handling barrels, wheels and tyres that can be fitted to vehicles.


Tipper body specialist Tipmaster offers a range of tail-lifts and cranes too. The former are marketed under the Tommy Lift banner, are designed to be fitted to pick-ups and will lift 500kg. The latter are sold as Swift Lifts and will raise 300kg.

Also in its catalogue are lifts that can handle 120- to 240-litre capacity wheelie bins. They're suitable for use with Tipmaster's Dustmaster tipper body refuse hoods.

Safety Matters

No matter whether they are fitted to 3.5-tonners or heavy trucks, tail-lifts should have sufficient capacity to handle the job in hand and should be fitted with a decent-sized platform to give users room to manoeuvre when they are loading and unloading.

If you don't have a big enough platform, and no safety gates are in place, there's always the danger that you and the load you're struggling with will topple off the edge.

Anybody proposing to use a tail-lift or crane should receive some basic training and both types of device should be inspected and serviced regularly to ensure efficient, cost-effective and, above all, safe operation. Maintenance isn't expensive — a service is unlikely to cost more than a minor service for a small car — and can be arranged under contract.


One of the simplest ways of loading and unloading cargo is of course to make use of an onboard ramp. WM System is one company that supplies them They weigh as little as 40kg, yet will handle weights of from 350kg to 1,500kg.

They don't need servicing, they're easy to use, and they should last for ages if you don't abuse them.

Wheelchair Lifts

A wide range of wheelchair lifts are available for accessible minibuses and include lifts from Ratcliff Palfinger that are stowed beneath the vehicle. The line-up encompasses a pair of 300kg-capacity models and one that will handle 350kg; wheelchairs are heavier these days than they have ever been.

Internally-mounted lifts include the manufacturer's fully-automatic twin-pillar C-Thru. It can raise 350kg and the mesh platform splits vertically to aid vision rearwards and ease access through the back doors.

Inboard lifts can make much more sense if the minibus has a low floor or if an underslung lift is likely to suffer damage if the driver has to go up rough farm tracks or across speed humps all the time. The latter are appearing all over the place, but are they all genuinely necessary given the constant wear and tear they impose on suspensions?

Specialist Lifts

Last autumn tyre supplier ATS Euromaster ordered another 100 Single Wheel Lifts from Penny Hydraulics for its service fleet. They allow technicians to lift all sorts of wheels and tyres in and out of their vans without the need for manual handling.


There is a tail lift or crane out there for just about any application these days so there is no excuse. And with legislation becoming ever tougher manual handling aids are now a necessity, not an option.