There are few industries that keep as close a watch on the weather as professional car washing. Will it or won’t it rain today? If it rains, what will my labor requirement be? Is there snow in the forecast? Will a good snowfall be followed by a bright, sunny car wash day? The answer to each of these questions will impact the revenue the wash generates and, ultimately, the number that appears on the bottom line.
There is another weather issue that car wash operators need to contend with: heat. The first week of July, meteorologists were warning of a heat wave covering large swaths of the country. This was nothing new. Two weeks earlier, temperatures in several locations across the Southwest hit record-breaking triple-digit highs. Phoenix, AZ saw 118 degrees earlier this year than in any year prior. These high temperatures are not merely uncomfortable; they can be deadly. Writing in In These Times, Elizabeth Grossman refers to five hikers who lost their lives due to heat in Arizona in June.
Workers are not immune, particularly those who labor outdoors as many car wash employees do. By law, employers are responsible for providing workplaces free of known safety hazards. This includes protecting workers from extreme heat. An employer with workers exposed to high temperatures (in California, any outdoor place of employment) must have a complete heat-illness prevention program in place. In 2014 alone, according to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), 2,630 workers were struck down with heat illness, and 18 died from heatstroke and related causes. According to OSHA, half of those who succumbed had been on the job no more than three days, while four died on the first day, under circumstances that did not allow for new workers to acclimatize to the heat.
“Water-Rest-Shade” (https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/index.html) is OSHA’s ongoing campaign to prevent work-related heat illness and lists several actions for inclusion in a prevention program. These include providing workers with water, rest, and shade; allowing new or returning workers to gradually increase workloads and take more frequent breaks in order to acclimatize; planning for emergencies; training workers on prevention issues; and monitoring workers for signs of illness.
Grossman points out that there are no federal heat standards. In California, however, there is. In an “Employment Law Legal Update” in June, Gary W. Bethel of the law firm Littler Mendelson, apprized Western Carwash Association members of a statewide high heat advisory issued by California OSHA, predicting that temperatures in certain parts of the state were expected to exceed 100 degrees this summer.
The legal update noted that California OSHA requires access to shade be available regardless of the temperature. However, if the temperature exceeds 80 degrees, the employer must have and maintain one or more areas with shade at all times while employees are present. In addition, employers must provide first aid or emergency response if an employee exhibits signs of or reports symptoms of heat illness. High-heat procedures, required when temperatures hit 95 degrees or more, do not apply to car wash businesses.
In the absence of a federal standard, operators should check with their state OSHA-equivalent agencies. Twenty-six states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands have OSHA-approved state plans (see www.osha.gov/dcsp/osp/ for a complete listing). If your state is not among them, or does not have a heat standard, it may be advisable to hew closely to the requirements of a state like California. At the very least it will help safeguard employees and be a measure of your concern as a responsible operator.