Friday, October 23, 2015

Avoiding Workplace Violence

Avoiding Workplace Violence
As I began to research materials for this blog, it became obvious that there are a lot of alarming statistics and horrible headlines written about this subject. However, my intent is not to simply repeat all of that in this month’s blog. Instead, I would like to provide some basic ideas that will help you know how to identify and mitigate the potential of workplace violence at your wash.

There are generally four categories that workplace violence can fall into. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) lists them as follows:

·         Criminal intent where the perpetrator has no legitimate relationship with the business or the employees. They are there generally at the location to commit some type of crime and any subsequent violence is incidental.

·         Customer/Client is normally when the aggressor does have some relationship with the business and acts out in a violent manner due to a situation brought about by a service related incident.

·         Worker-on-Worker where the hostile act is committed by an employee, or past employee, often due to work related disputes or stress related behavior.

·         Personal relationships are the last category and are defined mostly as a person who has a direct relationship with the intended victim.

A typical response after reading these categories may be to decide it’s not your responsibility, or your place, to constantly observe and evaluate the mentality of everyone at your wash. Many elect to ignore the hazards associated with some, or all, of these situations. Unfortunately, that may lead to your wash being the next headline.

The majority of the research for this blog agreed that the cause of most violent events in the workplace is stress. The following are some factors that may contribute to that hazard, along with some suggestions to defuse a stressful episode (For the purposes of this blog, I have concentrated on the third category of workplace violence: worker-on-worker):

·         Significant Change in Job Description- It is important to be sure that the employee is qualified to perform the work required for their new role. Training is also essential to be sure that employees are comfortable with what is expected of them.

·         Downsizing- Communication during downsizing is vital to keep the morale high and stress levels low. A lack of updates can cause your employees to draw their own conclusions about what is occurring. In these scenarios, employees tend to think of the worst case scenario, which could be counterproductive to what you are trying to accomplish.

·         Poor Hiring Practices- Investigate the State standards with regard to considering criminal background records as a part of the hiring process. Background checks are now cost effective, easy to perform and provide a wide scope of an employee’s history. At the very least, you should be looking at references whenever possible.

·         A Lack of Procedures to Report Violent Incidents- Without exception, every organization needs to have a violent incident reporting policy in place. At a minimum, your policy should include a zero tolerance policy with regard to workplace violence, naming the individuals assigned to accept reporting responsibilities within the wash management team, written acknowledgement that all threats are to be taken seriously and an outline of workplace violence policies and procedures. These should include how to respond to potential threats and how to involve all proper resources within the law enforcement community.

·         Loss of a Job, Raises, or Promotions- Resist an arbitrary approach to compensation. Proper documentation is vital to making sure management is providing a fair and equitable policy for all employees. The termination of any employee should be backed by sound reasoning and a good paper trail. These procedures should be spelled out in your employee manual and made available to all employees.

·         Money Problems- This falls into the category of observation. Pay attention when an employee constantly asks for advances, fails to pay back loans or complains to coworkers about unpaid bills. These may be signs that they are having money problems.

·         Drug and Alcohol Abuse- This is another observational concern. Look for signs of physical characteristics associated with drug or alcohol abuse. Also note any changes in behavior that can be attributed to controlled substances. Be sure to have a drug and alcohol abuse policy in the employee manual.

·         Being Reprimanded in Front of Your Associates- Being humiliated in front of your co-workers can be a huge stress builder. Any criticism should take place in a private setting and be offered in the most positive tactic possible.

·         Being Exposed to Bullying- A part of your workplace violence manual should include a policy on bullying and include a mission statement supporting zero tolerance. Look for signs of mental and physical abuse.

·         Sexual Harassment- Once again, this needs to be a part of your employee manual with a clear message outlining your company’s position on this topic.

This is a short list and I’m sure you may have some of your own ideas. The point is that any one of these could cause stress and trigger a violent act. If you are an owner, or supervisor, it is important to consider these potential hazards and the best practices for resolving them.

In the end, most of this comes down to observation. Employees are the most important resource at your wash. To help keep them comfortable and safe, controlling and preventing potential workplace violence is vital. Pay attention to the aforementioned factors, train supervisors to spot unusual behaviors, design and enforce a workplace violence policy and encourage open communication with all your employees. As with all my blog posts, if you don’t take action, nothing will happen. In this case, you may become the next headline!

The link below had a lot of good information that may assist you in developing a plan if you don’t have one currently in place:


Remember: A Safe Wash Protects People and Profits!!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Choosing Chemicals Can Be a Deadly Decision

Choosing Chemicals Can Be a Deadly Decision

On August 21, 2015, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reported that “exposure to hydrofluoric acid (HF) causes corrosive chemical burns and potentially fatal systemic toxicity.” They referred to examples in Washington State where “during 2001-2013 there was a fatality associated with a truck wash worker who ingested the substance, along with 48 occupational cases. Among those injured, seven were hospitalized, two required surgery.”

Is this information really significant for car washers? Here are some of the headlines that were circulating a few days after the report was released:

·    The NY Times - Car wash chemical dangerous to workers

·    The Spokesman-Review - Car wash chemical a danger to workers

·    Kurt Niland - CDC finds High Rate Of Chemical burns Among Carwash Workers

·    Business Examiner Media Group - Workers burned by car wash chemicals

There is a common theme in all of these headlines; they all refer to car washes! However, if you read the report, it also names truck drivers, auto detailers and truck washes. But what industry did the media pick up on? Car washes.

Most of us know this is not a new topic. Much has been written over the years about HF and ABF (Ammonium bifluoride). Both of these chemicals are very dangerous, causing many car wash owners to discontinue using these products. Unfortunately these chemicals still exists in the industry for cleaning wheels and tunnel walls.

Here are a few reminders of what to be aware of when handling these products:

·    Skin contact is often undetected until after the injury has occurred, since the chemicals tend to penetrate the skin quickly and attacks the bones. This delays any sense of pain, giving the effected worker the illusion that nothing is wrong.  By the time they feel the consequences of being exposed to the chemical, the damage has already occurred.

·    If HF is used in a spray form, it can be accidently ingested and can cause internal burns.

·    An alert circulated by the Oregon OSHA division in May of 2013 stated that “an HF burn covering less than two percent of your body can kill you.”

There are a few precautions you can take if you are using HF or similar chemicals:

·    Train all employees regarding the hazards associated with these chemicals

·    Wear goggles and face shields (not glasses)

·    Wear an apron approved for use with corrosive chemicals

·    Wear neoprene and nitrile gloves

·    Wear appropriate shoes (no sneakers)

·    Use engineering and administrative controls to limit exposure

·    Consider using equally effective alternative products for HF and ABF

Some first aid ideas if someone comes in contact with these chemicals:

·         In the event an employee’s skin is exposed, immediately apply 15 minutes of continuous water flow to the affected area.

·         As soon as possible, transport the exposed employee to a medical facility. Be sure to take a copy of the MSDS/SDS document with you.

·         If you have a trained first aid person available, they should apply calcium gluconate gel for skin burns. This should help limit the tissue damage. If the injury is eye related, they can also apply sterile one percent calcium gluconate in saline drops.

After reading this blog, many may believe that they don’t have this exposure. I implore you to be sure you read every chemical label to be sure you know exactly what you’re up against. Some years ago, I did a survey at a car wash and found an unmarked pail sitting in the car wash tunnel. The manager explained that they used this cleaner for the wash tunnel walls. We found the original pail that the chemical came from and it was labeled simply, wall cleaner. After reading the label more carefully we learned it had HF as an ingredient. The manager was shocked!

There is no doubt that these chemicals are great cleaning products at the wash. They’re also the most deadly! Don’t sacrifice your employees’ safety; make the smart decision and look for alternatives. Finally, be sure to read all chemical labels and avoid unwelcomed surprises. Your chemical suppliers are a great reference, make sure you use them!

For reference, these are the new pictograms you should be looking out for:

Remember, A Safe Wash Protects People and Profits!