Risk Management 101 — Steps to Minimize Exposure
A car wash owner or manager may wear many hats — as the decision maker, the customer service representative, the accountant, head of the marketing department, and maybe even the janitor at times. One hat to not overlook wearing on a regular basis is the “Risk Manager” hat. Taking some time to focus on activities that proactively minimize the risk in day-to-day operations can not only save you time and headaches, but also money in the long run.
Although insurance policies are purchased to protect your business from some types of risk, not all risks are covered by insurance. For those covered by insurance, you still possibly face the expense of certain deductibles, as well as higher premiums in the future if insurance claims are made. On the other hand, if safety and risk management procedures are created and followed, your business will look more attractive to the insurance market and, in return, you may obtain more favorable rates and lower premiums. Here are some brief examples of proactive risk-management practices that can be implemented to create a safe, profitable car wash.
PROPERLY TRAINING EMPLOYEES
When new employees are hired or a current employee changes positions, thorough and proper training in all aspects of their job duties is vital. It is also imperative to review procedures on a consistent basis with all employees to ensure quality and consistency goals are being met. Holding monthly or quarterly safety meetings as reminders of protective-safeguard use, chemical-handling procedures, and any other training area is a good idea. This also reinforces that the procedures in place are not optional and can prevent accidents due to carelessness. Proper training for any employee that may drive a customer’s vehicle is vital to a car wash operation. Physical damage to customers’ vehicles done by an employee is a common and costly problem that could be easily avoided with training and screening of employees selected to hold a driving position.
An accident-reporting procedure should be implemented and all incidents documented immediately no matter how insignificant. This will provide information you may need to furnish to the insurance company or authorities in case you were not present when the accident occurred. It will also allow you to look back at trends and frequency of incidents. Is a specific employee always involved? Is the same equipment at fault and does it need to be repaired or replaced? Seeing these trends can show where additional measures need to be implemented.
Moving machinery, chemicals, flammable substances, and excessive noise are exposures that occur in any workplace at various levels that can be dangerous. OSHA requires that personal-protection equipment (PPE) such as safety eye glasses, back support braces, gloves, ear plugs, and steel-toed and/or rubber soled shoes are provided. There are other protective safeguards that should be considered as well, including, but not limited to, lock-out/tag-out kits and guards for moving machinery. There are numerous free resources where further information can be found on this topic — www.osha.com is a great place to start. Reinforcement of proper usage can be done in safety meetings mentioned above.
While it may seem obvious, having necessary signage visibly posted can help prevent accidents that can happen to anyone who may be on your property, whether an employee or customer. Caution signs for slippery surfaces, signs stating your business hours (if applicable), instructions for entering the tunnel, reminders to wear protective equipment, or warning signs near hazardous chemicals and machinery are all examples.
Although the soaps and solvents used in a car wash operation don’t seem dangerous, they are still considered chemicals and can cause harm, especially when stored in bulk. Another OSHA requirement says a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) must be on hand for every chemical on your property. The MSDS contains information about the hazards associated with the chemical as well as first aid information should an incident with the chemical occur. Each employee should know where the MSDSs are located and be familiar with the dangers of each product at the wash. This information should be reviewed fairly often and could be incorporated in safety meetings held with all staff. Further, if chemicals are transferred to secondary containers, those containers should always be labeled so the contents can easily be identified in case of an accident. Disposal instructions should also always be followed to protect the environment. Visit www.osha.com for additional information on this topic.
The installation of a surveillance or security system at your car wash will have upfront costs that will vary depending on the level of sophistication of the system you choose. A system of any level should be a deterrent to thieves or vandals. Insurance companies may ask if a system is in place and, if so, give discounts accordingly.
By maintaining the premises, removing trash, and keeping the lawn and landscaping up, you not only create an attractive environment that invites customers in, but also reduce the chance of trip and falls or unseen accidents due to hazards that were ignored. General housekeeping should be addressed daily.
These are just a few ideas that hopefully will get you thinking about ways you can start or improve your current risk management plan. As stated previously, there are many free resources that can guide you through this process. There are also companies that will assist and provide materials for a fee. Although all of the above suggestions will take time to implement and may have up-front costs, the reward is a safer environment for you, your employees, and customers. Any measure taken to avoid injuries and property damage that you, the car wash owner, could be liable for, and to protect your own property from theft or damage will pay off in the end and increase profitability and productivity of your car wash.
Summer Cole is the car wash program director of Joplin, MO-based The Insurancenter. The Insurancenter has been insuring the car wash industry for over 25 years, and is the largest writer of car wash insurance nationwide.