Detailing Safety - June 2002

Put You in Your Schedule: Taking Care
of You is Taking Care of Business

By Prentice St. Clair

Does this scenario sound familiar? It's Friday evening and you just got home after finishing your last detail of an over-booked day. Actually, this is just the last day of an over-booked week. You've hardly had time to breathe, much less take a moment to eat lunch during the day. Your schedule has forced you to make these kinds of decisions: "Just grab another doughnut and a cola and keep going. Never mind that twinge in your lower back - you can rest on the weekend. Forget the goggles - got to get this engine detail done before 1:00!"

All of us have been in this type of situation at one time or another. Some of us operate like this all of the time. That is, we get so busy that
we put our commitments to the customer above our commitment to our personal safety. Isn't it great to have such a packed schedule that you don't have time for anything else? Should that packed schedule be at the expense of your own body?

I have always been a strong proponent of focusing on the customer's needs. However, this should never be done to the detriment of the detail technician's health. If you are so busy that you cannot or will not take time to do the common sense things that help prevent acute and cumulative injuries, you need to re-examine your priorities and your schedule. You are not helping your customers if you become sick or injured due to a disregard for personal safety.

Unfortunately, your chances of injury increase the more you ignore yourself. You may think, "I don't have time for stretching or putting on safety equipment because I'm too busy making money." However, if you don't take the time for these preventative measures, you may end up spending more non-productive time laid up with an injury. Additionally, you may not be doing your work as efficiently as you could. Your body is (or should be) the most important piece of equipment that you have. Think about it - the buffers won't work by themselves, will they

What I'm getting at is that, in addition to attending to the customer's requirements, the other way that you can best serve the customer is to take care of yourself first. Simple preventative measures like consistent use of safety equipment and regular care for your body can go a long way to preventing the downtime and inefficiency of work-related injury. This type of approach to your business requires a commitment to yourself which, if applied in a balanced fashion, ends up being a tremendous benefit to your business and your customers.

This commitment to yourself may require adjustments to your schedule. We often forget to put ourselves into our schedule. Does your schedule include a written-in 15-minute period at the beginning and end of each day for stretching? Does your schedule include a written-in exercise session several times a week? How about a regular therapeutic massage or chiropractic appointment?

Now, if you're response to these questions is something like, "Yeah, that's all great, but I gotta pay my bills!" then maybe it's time to take a serious look at your pricing structure. I find that most detail shops are not charging what the market will bear in their area. If you raise your prices up to what the market will bear, you instantly create more time because you can now work less hours per week and make the same amount or even more than you currently do, thus creating time to "take care of yourself."

The most common fear of raising prices is "customers won't like it." Actually, if you give your regular customers a 30-day written notice with a tactful, respectful, and logical explanation (e.g., the price of operating your business continues to go up, you haven't raised prices in X number of years, you are adding new (small) extras into your packages, etc.), you will find that the majority of them understand and accept your new, higher rates. The customers that don't accept rate increases are usually the cheap ones that shop for lowest price instead of the best value in town. You will find it a blessing that these customers weed themselves out from your customer base.

If you are an employer or manager of detail technicians, part of your responsibility to the operation is to make sure that your employees take care of themselves. The United States Occupational Safety and Heath Administration (OSHA) requires employers to provide workers with adequate protective and safety equipment as well as education about hazardous chemicals used in the workplace. (It's unfortunate that we have to have legislation that forces people to watch out for other people - shouldn't it be a natural inclination that drives an employer to want to keep employees out of harm's way?) Ignoring this responsibility is like ignoring frayed, bare wires on a buffer, only worse; you are dealing with a human being, not a machine that can be replaced.

Yes, employers should make sure that their detail technicians are wearing the mandated safety equipment like goggles and gloves. Employers should also encourage the use of the optional equipment as well. Things like kneepads, roll chairs, and hats may not be required by OSHA, but will make the job more comfortable for the detail technician, thus helping to reduce the possibility of cumulative injury while increasing the efficiency of the technician. Think about it for a moment - don't you get more done when you are not straining or fighting discomfort? If nothing else, consider this approach as a way to increase the profitability of your operation. That is, take care of your employees and encourage them to take care of themselves so that they can operate more efficiently and with less downtime so that more work gets done so that more money is made!

Your commitment to yourself can be categorized into three areas: injury prevention equipment, personal comfort equipment, and preventive maintenance activities for the body. Your commitment to yourself will allow you to work more efficiently and comfortably. Moreover, your customers will notice your commitment to personal safety. During my years as a full-time operator, it was not uncommon for a passer-by or customer to comment, "It's really smart that you wear all that stuff" or "You take your work seriously" as I worked with a hat, safety glasses, apron, and kneepads.

Injury Prevention Equipment
Injury prevention equipment is the stuff that everyone should be using. Protect your eyes from the potential of splashing chemicals through the use of safety glasses or goggles. Similarly, protect your hands by using gloves. Not only will you prevent cracked, chapped skin, but you will reduce the amount of absorption of chemicals through the skin - even chemicals that are relatively harmless during occasional use can accumulate in the body as a result of being absorbed through the skin. Disposable gloves are fine for most jobs. Use the special chemical-resistant gloves for heavier jobs.
Protect your knees and back from excessive bending and stooping through the use of rolling chairs. Your knees may not feel bad when you occasionally kneel down on them, but think of the cumulative effect of years of "standing" on your unprotected knees. Instead, protect your knees through consistent use of kneepads.

Consider using hearing protection while using noisy equipment like hot-water extractors and polishing equipment. These machines may not be loud enough to cause immediate discomfort, but the cumulative effect of listening to them all day long can actually cause physical fatigue, not to mention permanent hearing damage.

Personal Comfort Equipment
Personal comfort equipment is not as critical as injury prevention equipment but should be considered just as important in the prevention of injury and fatigue. Protect your feet and back through the use of high-quality work shoes. Protect your clothes and body from chemical splashes through the use of aprons. Protect your skin from the damaging effects of the sun through the use of a hat, sunscreen, and if appropriate, a shade canopy. Long exposure to direct sunlight and heat can cause noticeable fatigue.

I consider water to be a piece of "personal comfort equipment." Studies consistently show that
Americans tend to be at least slightly dehydrated because we don't drink enough water during the day. Many people choose beverages like soda and coffee instead of what the body really needs - water. Water, like oil or coolant in an engine, will help your body run more efficiently during the day.

Preventative Maintenance Activities
There are a number of things that you can do to help prevent injury and discomfort by taking care of your body. The most simple and inexpensive thing that you can do is stretch before, during, and at the end of the workday. Stretching at the beginning of the day prepares your muscles and other soft tissue for the physical work ahead. Stretching during the day (e.g., between jobs) helps remove "kinks" that develop as you work. Stretching at the end of the day ensures that those "kinks" don't go home with you.

Another low-cost method to help prevent injury is regular exercise. A balanced combination of aerobic and strength-building exercises will not only help your body work better but help you feel better in general. It doesn't have to be an extensive, intensive "training" program - just do something that gets your body moving, like swimming, jogging, cycling. A simple 10-minute brisk walk at the beginning of each day will do wonders!

I recommend seriously considering regular use of the healing arts and preventive therapeutic techniques. This requires a bit of money but it should be considered an investment in your health, not just an expense. For example, regular (once-a-month to once-a-week) therapeutic massage will help work out the adhesions that build up in your muscles and other soft tissues. These adhesions can lead to reduced flexibility and injury if allowed to go too far.

Chiropractic treatment will help in the alignment of the spine and joints so that the body can move freely. Misalignment puts strain on the muscles and other soft tissues of the body. I spent two years suffering through chronic lower back pain while working. Then, a retired orthopedic surgeon suggested that I see a licensed chiropractor, who, after a few short sessions, eliminated the pain. Now, an occasional adjustment is all I need to keep my back happy. Not everyone finds relief through chiropractic procedures, but it's a great place to start and requires substantially less financial and time commitment than traditional medical arts.

And, of course, there are a number of other great healing arts that can be used. Yoga is perhaps the best stretching and strength-building exercise combination on the planet. Acupuncture and acupressure techniques can be effective at reducing acute physical discomforts.

Does this stuff sound goofy? If so, you might consider examining the types of therapies typically used and embraced by most of your favorite sports stars. Guaranteed -- any sports figure you can name uses, on a regular basis, virtually all of the therapeutic techniques I just described. For the sports star, the body is the moneymaking tool. Isn't it ultimately the same for us? Shouldn't we then make the same type of commitment to the health of our bodies?

As you make your commitments - to operate a first-class detailing business, to create satisfied customers, etc. - make a commitment to yourself as well. Use your safety and ergonomic devices to help reduce injury and fatigue. Put you back in your schedule so that you can engage in preventative activities that also help reduce injury and fatigue. If you take care of your body, which is the most important tool in your shop, you will increase your efficiency and reduce the
possibility of downtime due to injury, thus increasing your profitability.

Prentice St. Clair owns and operates Detail in Progress, an automotive reconditioning brokerage and consulting firm. He is the author of several training videos and also is the lead trainer at in San Diego, CA. He is available for questions or comments at (619) 701-1100.

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