Auto Laundry News - March 2011

Better Safe than Sorry — Five Simple Steps to Improve Site Safety, Part I

By Anthony Analetto

Did you know that one of the largest car wash chains in the country has a push-on, push-off policy exclusively for any Jeep Cherokee, any year, which enters its wash? Did you know that within the last six months, unintended acceleration involving Jeep Cherokees at different car washes killed two people?

This is nothing new. I’ve written about it before. Last week my 17-year-old son decided to take a line position
at a nearby flex-serve car wash. Admittedly a little overprotective, I decided to call the owner, a friend of mine, to see what his current driver-training and car-handling procedures were. I asked if he had heard about the recent fatalities involving Jeep Cherokees. Genuinely surprised, he replied no, and that it had been so long since he heard about the issue, he couldn’t say with absolute confidence that all of his staff were still following the correct driver safety procedures, but that he would find out.

Satisfied that he would ensure the simple safety practices that save lives, and potentially my son’s, were in place, I realized it might be a good idea to remind everyone of the few extra steps to protect the safety of our employees and customers. Attention to training, management, signage, and site planning can help avoid tragedy. Here are a few ideas, some of which I’ve written about before, to start with:

  • Driver training and certification program
  • Start in park procedure
  • Bollards equal safety
  • Eliminate unnecessary movement
  • Fill the grid

In this issue we’ll consider the first three of these steps. Next month, we will conclude this article with a discussion of the last two steps.

DRIVER TRAINING AND CERTIFICATION PROGRAM

Set very specific requirements as to who at your site is permitted to move a customer’s car. Train them. Test them. Certify them, and differentiate them from the rest of your staff. I’ve seen some operators use red vests, baseball caps, and distinct shirts. Whatever you use, your manager must be able to know with a quick glance, without thinking, that whoever is driving a car has been certified to do so.

Driver certification can include many things. At a bare minimum, you must verify that they possess a valid driver’s license, have passed a drug screening, and can drive both automatic and manual-transmission vehicles. A safe wash will use those base qualities to verify that candidates are eligible to receive special driver certification. All certified drivers must be trained and able to demonstrate a complete understanding of vehicle stacking and moving procedures. In addition, they should be aware of all cars with special considerations and know proper handling procedures.

Some vehicles require additional care when moving. Every wash must devise a list of them and the necessary action to alert all people on the property to the potential danger. Visor clips, steering wheel covers, hazard lights, or horn honks each time a vehicle is moved are some common signals used. Vehicles that warrant extra care include those with modifications common for driver education or handicapped operation, as well as cars with a documented history of sudden acceleration. Regional and national car wash associations are excellent sources for information on makes and models that demand caution when on your property.

The last component of a driver certification program is to make sure it’s treated seriously. It is advised to provide additional compensation or benefit, such as free uniforms, to certified drivers. Equally, managers must fully appreciate that failure to adhere to these procedures can and will result in serious injury.

START IN PARK PROCEDURE

Did you know that most, if not all, unintended acceleration incidents occur when shifting a running car from neutral to drive when exiting the conveyor? Cars with a documented history of unintended acceleration should never be permitted to go through the conveyor with the engine running. At the exit of the conveyor, all special care vehicles should be placed in park with the brake pedal fully depressed and visually verified before starting the engine. Drivers must be trained to watch the tachometer and wait for engine speed to decline after ignition before slowly releasing the brakes and proceeding with caution, hand on the ignition and ready to turn off the engine in the event of unintended acceleration. The parking brake can also be engaged as an additional safety precaution.

BOLLARDS EQUAL SAFETY

Bollards equal safety.

Bollards are steel pipes embedded into the ground and filled with concrete. Used for years to provide protective barriers around gas pumps, vended vacuums, and building entrances, they can also be used to provide a safe place for attendants to stand at your wash. Flex-serve and express-exterior washes are increasingly installing them on the driver side of the conveyor entrance. Attendants stand safely behind the post as they guide customers onto the conveyor. Full-serve washes are using bollards to provide safer work areas in vacuum lanes, finishing areas, or anywhere cars and people are both moving around. For anyone who reads my column regularly, you’ve probably realized I strongly recommend against any manual vehicle prep. For those who insist on using labor instead of the many available equipment options for this function, bollards can again be used to provide a safe separation between prep attendants and cars entering the conveyor.

Next month, we will take a closer look at safety steps numbers 4 and 5: eliminating unnecessary movement and filling the grid.

Good luck, and good washing.

Anthony Analetto has over 28 years experience in the car wash business and is the president of SONNY’S The Car Wash Factory’s Equipment Division. Before coming to SONNY’S, Anthony was the director of operations for a 74-location national car wash chain. Anthony can be reached at (800) 327-8723 x 104 or at AAnaletto@SonnysDirect.com.

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