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Is it Safe? - Protect Your Customers, Employees, and Assets

By Bob Kuczik

10/01/16
Keep personal protection equipment organized and at hand.

July 2016 was the all-time hottest month since recordkeeping began, and this may also turn out to be the hottest year ever. Did you insist that your employees remain hydrated, and did you keep plenty of water bottles on hand? Safety at car washes is dependent on many factors. Your team can make or break you.

CAR WASH OWNERS COMMENT ON SAFETY

I attended a car wash owner roundtable discussion at a Southwest Car Wash Association (SCWA) road show and asked owners how they run a safe car wash. The responses varied widely and covered several disparate issues:
• “My older employees are often too complacent and I need to follow up constantly.”
• “I warn anyone who steps on a running conveyor belt or who messes with a spinning brush that it means immediate termination.”
• “If I see them driving the car with the door open and a leg or foot out, they are suspended. Same thing with standing in front of the vehicles to guide them on to the conveyors.”
• “We abide by a strict LOTO (lock out/tag out) policy with only my experienced personnel approved for doing inspection and repairs. The main guy’s name is on that tag and I won’t tolerate any substitution.”
• “If an emergency situation occurs, employees must find the senior manager on site who is trained and prepared to tackle the situation.”
• “Chemicals must be kept in the restricted area and off the floor with supplies on shelves.”
• “All of our SDSs for chemical products are kept on site and in sight in case of an emergency.”
• “We provide yellow safety vests to wear over our company t-shirts so customers are aware of where our workers are at all times.”

WINTER: TIME FOR PROFITS AND HEADACHES

Slippery winter conditions are just around the corner. Be prepared to address the next series of curve balls, which will occur during your busiest and most profitable season. Perhaps the coldest winter ever is also coming our way. Slipping and falling at car washes are constant concerns.

“Most car washes, especially in the Northeast, have radiant heat set up in their bays, which affects the skirt area,” says John Tobias, director of marketing at Kleen-Rite. “You need to keep that area breathing.”

Installation of radiant heat tubing with floor heat anti-freeze is an excellent solution. Whether you are getting ready to upgrade your existing car wash or building a new one it’s a good investment. Use of portable heaters is an alternative or can be employed as a supplement. You should always use mats with non-skid backing.

“The increasing numbers of legitimate and nuisance lawsuits pertaining to injuries sustained by customers and employees can be avoided or minimized by taking pro-active measures such as installation of radiant floor heating,” says Tobias. This may not be a low-cost capital expenditure, but it is common sense.

Owner Comment: “We watch the temperature of stored chemicals both for extreme heat and sub-freezing temperatures.”

Prepare your self-service wand bays, in-bay automatics, and tunnel operations for this winter. Have enough absorbent on hand to clean up spills. Obviously, using the water hose is not a winter solution because water freezes. Training your employees to handle all chemicals safely is a year-round problem but especially so in the winter when ventilation is hampered by enclosed work areas as opposed to open-air environments. Are you using masks and ventilators?

Snow shovels, ice melt, winter gloves, snow blowers, etc., are no-brainers. Make sure you have them on hand or on order now.

Take the time to inspect the contents of first-aid kits and replenish and refresh the items that were depleted the last time the kit was used. Check if any meds are dried up or missing. Take five minutes to do these things personally, and bring your deputies with you so that they know that the sheriff is serious when you enquire if the kits were inspected. The same applies to the fire extinguishers. 

The chemical supply room is a perfect place for a sign.

PERSONAL PROTECTION EQUIPMENT

Gloves

Safety gloves can be life savers. Make sure that you buy the better products, which are thicker — not medical gloves or kitchen sink gloves. You need chemical-resistant gloves. Remember to inspect them for pinprick holes that can permit caustic and corrosive chemicals to seep in to the glove and harm you and/or your staff. Hydrofluoric acid (HF), ammonium bi-fluoride (ABF), and many wheel cleaners have labels that warn against contact with the skin. They can cause permanent damage to your hands. In severe cases even amputation may be necessary.

Owner Comment: “Too many chemicals are dangerous, and my guys are told to pay attention to warning labels on drums and make sure that those labels are facing out so that they can be easily read.”

Goggles

Encourage your staff to protect their eyes. Safety goggles are relatively inexpensive and necessary for working in car washes, especially when working near brushes and high-pressure sprays. Always use spray guns and wands that have spring-loaded triggers. Uncontrolled high-pressure spray guns can accidentally take out a person’s eye.

Earplugs

Earplugs may not look cool but, as any person with tinnitus will tell you, protecting your hearing is vital and nothing makes you grow older faster than hearing loss. Noise from machinery at earsplitting decibels will cause permanent and/or severe hearing loss.

With or without earplugs, it’s a good idea to develop a preset team-communication system of hand signals to be used when dangerous conditions occur. It may be quicker to alert the employee in your bay or tunnel by getting their attention and pointing to a danger sign nearby. That broken conveyor belt or spinning roller brush can be hazardous. Common sense solutions are often free and the most effective. It takes patience and good communication, so make sure to set aside time for weekly meetings.

TRAINING

It may take a while to write one, but create a specific written policy program for your car wash — not some generic one — and hand it personally to all employees at orientation. Highlight the employees’ areas of responsibility with a yellow marker. Give a verbal quiz and ask the employee to sign an acknowledgment of having read the policy before they are permitted to work the floor. If they are moving cars, make sure to review and make a copy of a valid driver’s license.

Owner Comment: “I use veteran and trusted employees, preferably with three to four years of employment, to train the others.”

Signs should be placed in areas where you have the greatest opportunity for danger. The chemical supply room is a perfect place for a sign. The entrances to and exits from your bays and tunnels are high-incident areas where people are always wandering around to watch as their cars are getting soapy. These are critical area for warning signs.

Signage: “Standing on 5-, 30-, and 55-gallon drums is dangerous and prohibited.”

MONITORING

One way to ensure compliance by your employees and also by your customers is video surveillance. When people see the presence of cameras on the premises they tend to act with more caution. This also helps protect you legally. You can prove that the car entered your bay with pre-existing damage even when the customer swears otherwise. Video of anyone vandalizing or stealing anything from your facility or from your customers and vice versa is quite convincing in court.

Always post signs in prominent places advising that cameras are in use to discourage fraud and theft. This will also slow down employees from fooling around. 

This poster at Sponge Brothers Car Wash says it all.

Here is a very affordable suggestion: Costco sells a Samsung SmartCam HD Plus 1080p Wi-Fi Monitoring Camera Bundle for $139. This simple device will bring live video including audio to your PC, your iPhone or other smartphone device. You can record events or take snap shots. The night vision feature is incredibly clear. With this camera you can observe what is happening at your facility 24 hours a day, no matter where you are. It works like a “nanny cam” and really should not take the place of a professional security camera. A high-quality monitoring system will protect you from potential lawsuits and discourage risky behavior on and around your premises.

YIPPEE! WE’RE GOING TO THE CAR WASH!

Car washes have always been great places for the family. Kids love to visit the local wash. It’s a pure American tradition. Keep your car wash friendly, and use signs to point out the areas that are out of bounds with hazard cones and signage, preferably dual-language. Clean restroom maintenance is a sore subject. This requires constant attention but your image is so important. Maintain a clean, family-friendly environment even if it means spending extra time and money.

Assurances of safety will backfire if you don’t back them up with risk prevention. Disney World and other amusement parks gained heartbreaking attention for lack of safety measures, which could have prevented tragedies. How much was the cost for a sign or a safety belt in the final analysis?

If you think the only thing that your customer sees at your business is whether his wheels are clean, you are making a big mistake. The attitude and appearance of your employees and overall friendliness and cleanliness of the business is subliminal and crucial for repeat sales.

If you have been flamed on Facebook or Trip Advisor, make sure that negative reviews are treated with the utmost care and respect. Do not allow a negative post to stand without a response that shows you care. The customer is always right, and the people who are unhappy are the ones who tend to post, so make sure that you find a way to show your concern. That phone, a computer in your pocket, is how the world operates today and it will kill your brick-and-mortar business if you are not paying close attention.

Distinctive t-shirt identifies car wash employees.

PERSONNEL

Managers are generally more experienced and are longstanding employees with intelligence, tact, and decent communication skills. The larger car wash owners tend to outfit staff with clean and crisp uniforms. This lends a positive impression. Having a company t-shirt or collared shirt uniform will make a difference.

Owner Comment: “If an emergency situation occurs employees must find the senior manager on site who is trained and prepared to tackle the situation.”

Managers identify potential hazards for customers and employees, such as icy surfaces and slippery wet surfaces.

The gateway to your business — that first impression of what kind of operation you are running — is normally your service advisor. Their jobs are multi-faceted. If your service advisors are uncomfortable and only ask, “What service do you want?” you lose sales.

The advisor who steps away to smoke a vape or take a cell-phone call, leaves a bad impression and creates concern about the safety of your car wash. Your customers feel unimportant and wonder whether their car will be handled properly as it goes through the tunnel.

IT’S UP TO YOU

Running a car wash in today’s world means adapting to constantly changing conditions. We face global-warming and eco-friendly issues. Today’s concerned car wash owners, particularly the legacy and younger owners, are investing substantial time and dollars to provide a safe environment for their customers and employees. You will maximize profits and elevate the public image of your car wash by maintaining simple, safe practices.

A few years ago, independent businessmen owned 90 percent of car washes. National and regional convenience-store, gas-station, and wholesale-club chains are opening car washes, and they will continue to add new locations. Their low prices appeal to customers. However, they also target and convert families by promoting clean, professional, safe locations. Large corporations that enter the car wash business are not focusing on you. They are competing with each other. Don’t make yourself “low-hanging fruit.” Compete with them now, and retain your customers before you see the local car wash become as rare as the local pharmacist.

 

Bob Kuczik is director, sales and marketing for Wheel-eez, a subsidiary of Cork Industries. You can visit the company on the web at www.wheel-eez.com. 



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