Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Carwash Driving Tips that could save a life!

Many of you are painfully aware of the history of SUV incidences that have resulted in fatalities, major injuries and significant loss of property. Throughout my 15 year tenure in this industry I have accumulated a few helpful tips that could mitigate the chances of this happening at your wash.


1. Only designated drivers (other than managers) are permitted to operate a customer’s vehicle.

2. All designated drivers must have a valid driver’s license.

3. All drivers must have a minimum 3 years of driving experience.

4. It is recommended that all drivers wear distinguishing clothing so the management team can easily identify them.

5. Any handicapped or modified vehicles should only be driven by a manager or a driver specifically trained to do so.

6. All drivers should be required to pass a driving test administered by the owner or manager.

7. Each quarter, all drivers should attend a mandatory drivers safety meeting. All of those in attendance should be required to sign off indicating date and time of each meeting. (Download meeting attendance sheet.)

8. The owner should require all new drivers to present a copy of their drivers’ abstract from Motor Vehicles. This procedure should also be required of current drivers on an annual basis.

9. It is recommended that, if employees clean rugs at the entrance to the wash that they replace both front carpets on the passenger’s side until the vehicle is ready to be returned to the customer. This will eliminate accidentally placing them on the gas pedal.

10. The employee should start all SUV vehicles only when it is in park.

In addition I would suggest training the employees driving the vehicle off the conveyor to keep their hands on the ignition switch as an added precaution. This will help remind them to turn the vehicle off if a sudden acceleration should occur. Some washes also utilize the hazard flashers to alert employees when SUV vehicles are going through the tunnel.

During very busy days I know the temptation is to use all available employees for driving but those are the days when things are most likely to go awry. Please seriously consider always using only dedicated experienced and trained drivers exiting the conveyor at the very least. And always refrain from using youthful operators.

Many jurisdictions allow unlicensed drivers to operate a vehicle on private property. However, we had an instance some years ago where an unlicensed driver lost control of a car due to a malfunctioning gas pedal. It crossed four lanes of traffic and was lucky enough to only sustain vehicle damage without any bodily injuries. The unlicensed driver was not so lucky. Since the driver was now on a public road they were arrested on the spot. Another negative outcome was that even though this loss occurred as a result of the customer's vehicle malfunction the wash was 100% responsible. There was no defence once an illegal act is committed such as driving without a license.

If the Wash's exit opens out towards a public highway it is important to install approved barrier to prevent the vehicle from inadvertently accelerating into traffic.

Exterior car washes can also pose problems that could cause fatalities, personal injury and damaged property. Part of a successful safety management plan should include assisting the customers driving vehicles. This is often overlooked and can be solved with a few simple steps.

1. Train your employees to note any drivers that seem uncomfortable going into the wash. Most often these will be senior citizens who can be distracted or confused easily. In these instances it would be prudent to have the employee offer a designated driver manage the vehicle through the wash for the customer.

2. At the Wash's exit be sure that the instructions are clear as to what a vehicle driver should do as they exit. i.e. Stop, go, traffic lights, arrows directing traffic etc.

Please share your driving tips with us by posting a comment with the link below.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What you don't know can hurt you!

One of the most dangerous operations at the car wash is handling and use of chemicals. An important aspect that is often overlooked is proper labeling.

Each label describes the contents of the chemical, how to safely handle and apply it, and general safety practices (first aid)for that particular container's contents. It will also identify any dangerous ingredients. Unfortunately very often labels are damaged during product transfer and general wear & tear. Therefore it is important to periodically check not only the drum labels but all container labels too. If they are damaged, it can be easily replaced by the supplier. We recently paid a large 5 figure claim due to a container that looked like pretreat bug spray but was really a caustic chemical. The employee applied the spray to the vehicle resulting in destroying the entire body of the car. The only solution to the claim was a brand new car. So, not only is having the labels displayed where they can be easily seen and readable a smart idea, it is an OSHA requirement. Also, do not ignore hand held bottles - it could be a costly mistake! Even though many of the contents of the spray bottles are generally harmless and easily recognized by the employees, on a busy day someone helping out may not be familiar with the product and that's generally when a problem arises.

Proper labeling should also include another OSHA requirement, MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet). OSHA mandates that you maintain a copy of this document for every chemical used at the wash in a binder located in an easily accessible area. This is a part of your HAZCOM plan which is where you need to comply with the standard that requires identification of all chemicals in use to your employees. These are provided by the chemical manufacturer free of charge for each chemical you purchase. My tip is - in addition to meeting this OSHA standard, affix a plastic sleeve to each container with a few copies of the MSDS for quick and easy access in the event of an emergency. A few years ago an employee was rushed to the hospital after accidentally splashing a chemical in his eye. A quick thinking manager grabbed the MSDS sheet for the physician to refer to. After treating the employee the Dr. explained to the manager that had he not provided the MSDS to him, the original procedure he had planned to follow, would have caused permanent damage to the the employee's eye. I also recommend that you provide copies of the MSDS documents to your local fire department. This knowledge can assist firefighters in their effort to more safely respond to the scene and it could help them control any potential pollution to the local environment as well.

As you know many times it is the simplest or seemingly the most obvious that gets overlooked. Chemicals are a big part of your daily activities. Sometimes this can lead to routine which in turn leads to becoming less aware of the safety issues associated with the handling of these products. Let this be a friendly reminder to take a step back and be sure everything is as is should be.

What story can you share that help your wash with chemical safety?

A safe wash protects people and profits!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

To coin a phrase, Benjamin Franklin's quote tells us that the investment in preventive safety management saves money! The average cost due to theft at many carwashes is $25,000. 80% of that loss is damage to either the building or carwash equipment, not the loss of actual currency.

Most carwashes have a minimum $1,000 deductible which is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes this kind of loss. Consider, an important hidden cost is the decrease in volume due to the communities perception that your location is now unsafe. Finally add to that the increase in premium you will most likely experience on renewal from the insurance company. This incident has now resulted in a large out of pocket direct expense.

There are some very cost effective solutions to minimize these expenses to both you and your insurance company. One example is, for the cost of the average deductible, you can install shock and vibration sensors. These will be very effective if your wash has automated tellers. Many of the newer machines are equipped with these devices pre-installed, however, unfortunately most are not connected when setup. You can also retro fit machines that do not have sensor devices pre-installed. (Check out Safeco Alarms for more information.) If you have this exposure my advice is to at the least wire them to a local alarm. The majority of these types of thefts are spur of the moment looking for an easy target. A local siren or alarm eliminates that scenario. If possible I would also suggest tying it to a central station alarm if you have it. The local alarm prevents the immediate damage to the equipment while the central station will hopefully keep them from coming back at a later time. To help reduce the cost of this installation do your own wiring. Sensor applications could also be applied to change machines, vending machines and vacuums.

Other safety considerations would be; superior lighting, developing a rapport with the local police, video surveillance and plenty of security signage.

In these economic times more and more of these crimes are being committed. Even if you have not been effected by this yet the odds are sooner or later it could happen to you. Don't be a victim.

What really good things have you done at your wash to prevent crime?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Motorcycle slides into intersection!

A number of years ago we paid a claim when a motorcycle was unable to stop at an intersection just past a carwash. The driver sustained serious injuries. As a result of the accident investigation, engineers were able to determine a significant amount of residue had been deposited on the lane exiting the carwash through to the intersection when compared to the opposite side of the road. This condition was a major contributing factor involving the carwash in the suit as a defendant, which subsequently resulted in a judgement.

There are a few lessons that can be learned from this particular loss as well as other hazardous conditions that can be avoided regarding slippery surfaces. One example is, many carwashers elect to use silicon based tire dressing, as opposed to water based, which without properly addressing the surface issues can increase the risk of accidents such as this.

As a car exits the tunnel, the residue is transferred not only to road surfaces beyond the carwash but all too often to public areas at the carwash. Some examples are common walkways used to vacuum the vehicles, discard garbage, offline detailing and access to vending machines. Left untreated an unsafe condition for both employees and customers is the result.

Another example of transfer would be if you have a short span from the exit of the carwash to the public roadways, investigate alternative routes to allow more time for runoff. You may also consider a downhill slope with a drain at the end of the exit ramp. Work with your local transportation department for possible assistance in this regard.

I would also suggest a routine maintenance schedule be implemented. It is often best to document each time the employee cleans/maintains the area including where, when and how. In areas of the country where freezing can be a concern a simple tool was developed to keep track each time salt was applied to control ice buildup. Download/preview 'Salt Log' this is an example that may be helpful or that you could modify to your own specifications.

Share your suggestions on how you were able to improve slippery conditions associated with carwashing.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

One death is too many!

Over the past 15 years I have administered the National Carwash Insurance Program. During that time I have experienced three death claims. Even though this is the most extreme consequence to the many hazardous operations at carwashes, it should impress upon us the importance of safety for both your customers and your employees.

We have to take that first step if there is any chance of providing a safe environment for all. This is the impetus for my blog. To get the word out to as many operators as possible that the time is now to be proactive and develop your own safety action plan.

At a recent meeting of over 150 operators I asked the question, "How many in this room have any kind of safety plan?" Less than 5 people raised their hand.

The intent of this blog is to offer you simple solutions to begin your 'Safety Management Program'. Let's get started.

Buy yourself a binder to collect your safety tips in. You can find these here on my blog or Professional Carwash & Detailing, ICA - Safety Resources, NRCC Claims Categories & Preventive Actions and CarWash College to name just a few.

Implement monthly safety meetings where you discuss these tips and hold trainings for your employees on best safety practices. I have created a few documents that will help you get started; Safety Meeting Agenda Sheet and Safety Meeting Roll Call Sheet . Helpful hint - use one of your newer employees to run the meeting.....wait let me explain. What I have found is that most often they have not had time to create bad habits and they often will pick up on things to that may be overlooked by your seasoned employees.

Do you have a safety tip that you would like to share?