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How Safe Is Your Shop?

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When I started asking dealers that question, the answers that I got were all across the board. Most answers usually started with a "yes," but after some discussion its ometimes changed to an "I think so." Finally, after digging a bit more, the response moved to an "I don’t really know."

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This could be a concern in that tire dealers may not even recognize they have a problem.

Dealers and location managers need to be concerned about this question for a host of reasons. A safe shop represents a better working environment for employees and a better buying experience for customers. People should feel comfortable and safe going to work everyday and customers should not have to worry when they bring their vehicles in for tires and service.

It also means lower insurance premiums, savings on property and liability expenses, and an increase in productivity and profit.

So, what is the definition of a safe shop? Let’s start with OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). To many of you, OSHA is a four-letter word, and the mere thought of it conjures up images of fines and penalties for non-compliance and safety violations. Many times a dealer or retreader’s introduction to the agency comes when a disgruntled employee makes a call about a safety issue, or worse, when there is an accident and someone gets hurt.

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But there is a helpful side to OSHA. For instance, did you know that OSHA (at the federal level) gives funding to states for consultation?

“The program is set up to where OSHA on a national scale focuses on establishing standards and policies, and enforcing regulations. The OSHA-funded state consultation program objective is to be a resource for small businesses,” says Andy Alcarese, consultation program manager with the MOSH (Maryland Occupational Safety and Health) Consultation Service. “Every state has a consultation group to help small businesses. The objective is not to issue citations but to provide help as requested.

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“A business owner can call the state consultation program and they will provide an on-site survey without the fear of fines or penalties as long as serious hazards are corrected in a reasonable period of time,” he says. “This can be important for a business owner because many times they find out about a safety problem when it’s too late and somebody gets hurt.”

OSHA does not publish a standardized set of guidelines that a business can follow, which makes it difficult to really know that your shop is truly a safe working environment. Alcarese did, however, provide a list of the most common problems that they encounter:

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Lifts – OSHA has very limited standards on lifts and recommends if there are any questions that the owners contact the Automotive Lift Institute for the current guidelines and industry standards (www.autolift.org). The issues arise from improperly using a lift that is not suited to the job or not used in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines. (For more on lift safety, see sidebar.)

Asbestos – Asbestos may still be encountered in friction and clutch products. This includes brake shoes, pads and clutches on older vehicles, as well as some newer friction and clutches. The OSHA asbestos standard prescribes specific safe practices. For example, shops should not use compressed air to clean brake systems, and a flush system should be used where the brake dust is washed from the vehicle into an approved container for disposal.

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Hazardous Materials – Material Safety Data Sheets are required for all chemicals that are used in your location. This information must be made available to all employees; under the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard they must know where the sheets are stored and have access to them. Employees must also be provided with training to ensure they know about the hazards and can take protective measures when using them. These sheets should be available from all suppliers.

Personal Protective Equipment – An assessment should be done to identify needed personal protective equipment, including basic items like safety glasses, gloves and work boots. It certainly goes beyond these basic items for some shops, and equipment should be tailored to the specific work that is performed. Keep in mind that under current regs, employers are responsible for providing personal protective equipment.

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Other Hot Items
• All exhaust should be ducted to the outside and the shop should have adequate ventilation. Recommendations include having a carbon monoxide alarm in the shop.

• Compressors should be inspected periodically and the tanks drained nightly to prevent rust buildup and a potential failure. Air lines should also be inspected and repaired as required.

• Portable tools should be inspected periodically to ensure that they are in good working condition.

• Torches or any type of flame should not be used near a gas tank or any type of flammable material.

• Compressed air should not be used for cleaning purposes. If it is used for anything other than operating tools or inflating tires that requires it to be released into the open, the maximum pressure needs to be set at 30 psi.

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• All pipes with compressed air must be strong enough to safely handle the internal pressure, and must not be susceptible to rupture upon impact. PVC pipe is not suitable for shop air systems.

• Bench grinders need to have the tongue guard and tool rest (set at the proper distance from the grinding wheel) at all times. An eye guard should also be in place.

• If servicing single- and multi-piece truck wheels, cages and approved safety equipment must be used. Training must also be provided.

• Fire extinguishers must be in place and in compliance with the standards set by the National Fire Protection Association. They should be inspected regularly and all employees must be trained in how to properly use them. Only with incipient-stage fires (fires in trash cans, etc.) should there be any attempt to extinguish. If there are questions as to the number and placement of fire extinguishers, it is recommended that the local fire marshal be contacted.

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Risk Management
“Common sense and consistency are key to a safe working environment,” says Lawrence J. Nagle, director of corporate risk management for Monro Muffler Brake Inc., parent of Mr. Tire.

“Our primary business is fixing cars, but it’s important that our stores are a safe workplace. We have to work everyday to make sure that happens,” he says.

Monro has developed its own internal guidelines and procedures, and Nagle recommends that independent dealers develop a store inspection checklist for four basic areas: the service area, the stock area, the waiting room and the outside area. In addition, there should be a list of required safety equipment for each. Within each of these areas, specific categories with detailed checkpoints should be established.

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Experience has proven to Nagle that 95% of accidents are behavioral or attitude driven, which means the employees need to buy into safety. He recommends getting them involved and rewarding them if the shop is accident free for a measurable period of time, like a month or a quarter.

Realities are that for every 100 mistakes there will be a claim, and for every 50 claims there will be a large loss. For every 10 large losses there will be one catastrophe. To put that into something we deal with every day, the mistake is when the wheel is improperly torqued (no torque stick was used). The claim is the wheel off. The large loss is the vehicle is in an accident. The catastrophe is that someone dies.

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Virginia Anklin, MOSH consultation safety supervisor, says, “The state consultation programs encourage business owners to periodically inspect their shop by developing and using a checklist. If there are questions, many can be answered over the phone. If a problem exists, the state agency can help the business owner navigate through the regulations. Consultations are confidential and are not shared with the enforcement part of the OSHA charter.”

Starting Point
So, as a business owner, where do you start? Safety starts with common sense. Resources for developing a safe shop program are all around us. Nagle recommends that dealers and retreaders contact their vendors and insurance brokers to get some help and guidance. Most should be enthusiastic at the opportunity to help you potentially reduce claims.

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Route salespeople can also be a good resource as they are in and out of shops of all types and can possibly help identify problem areas. Once your location inspection checklist is developed, it should be reviewed with all employees and a schedule of regular inspections should be started. There should also be compliance procedures and regular safety meetings with all store personnel. Many dealers and retreaders even appoint one employee to serve as safety compliance officer, and make them responsible for managing your safety program.

“This dynamic project needs to be reviewed and updated as needed and become your company’s policy. It should be followed and enforced at all times,” says Kevin Rohlwing, senior vice president of training for TIA, who has given numerous presentations on workplace safety.

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“If the established policy cannot be followed and enforced, it should be changed or eliminated,” he says. “Failures to enforce policies can be used against you in court.”

When it does come to legal action, Rohlwing suggests the best way to protect yourself and the business is to make sure:

• All safety-related meetings, discussions and training sessions are documented

• All safety equipment is available and up-to-date

• All hazardous materials are clearly marked

• All aisles are clean and fire exits properly marked

• All equipment and vehicle maintenance and repairs are documented

Training is an important element in a safe workplace. TIA provides automotive tire service training (ATS) and commercial tire service training (CTS). Both of these programs help establish a level of expertise and safe procedures in the shop. They can also help provide support should a serious accident occur, since the training programs provide documentation that the employees completed the program and were aware of the store’s policy.

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For those dealers that are in the medium-truck tire business, Rohlwing tells the story in his presentations of how a technician was fatally injured by an exploding tire during emergency road service. The tire was inflated on a damaged rim outside the safety cage. OSHA cited the company for failure to train all of the technicians properly. Training records were requested, and the state found out that all the store’s technicians were TIA certified and the paperwork and certifications were up to date.

As the investigation continued, TIA stepped in to defend their CTS program and met with the state’s assistant attorney general. They scrutinized every aspect of the training program and ultimately the charges against the business were dropped. Unfortunately someone died in this case, but because the store ensured that the individuals received the proper training and documented everything, charges against the business were dropped and the liabilities were minimized.

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Philip Muller, president of Affiliated Agency Inc., specializes in insurance programs for tire dealers. His perspective is that focusing on just a few things can go a long way in controlling losses. These few items apply to all classes of risks within the tire industry:

• A regularly scheduled equipment maintenance program can apply to any vehicle fleet, manufacturing or auto equipment on- or off-premises.

• Use equipment as it is designed for.

• Safety is of the utmost importance to avoid serious injury or property/liability damage.

• Good housekeeping is a must. A few examples would be making sure there is adequate aisle space clear of debris, stock and any other materials that could cause injury to the general public or employees. (From an employer perspective, employee accidents and frequency of workers compensation claims cause experience charges that increase premiums.)

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• Upkeep public access areas to avoid trips, slips and falls. This will go a long way to protect you against bodily injury claims (examples: clearing ice and snow in front of the premises, making sure sidewalks, parking lots or driveways are in good repair or condition).

• Ensure that all employees are trained in the operation of all the equipment in your shop. The manufacturers provide such training and it should be fully utilized. Additionally, associations such as TIA provide training and certification programs to help ensure people know how to properly work on tires.

• Keep several accessible, clearly marked and approved fire extinguishers. These should be in all areas of the premises and should include up-to-date and approved sprinkler systems as needed to meet fire code requirements.

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• Have approved monitoring and alarm systems for both fire and burglary.

• Hire acceptable employees – by insurance company standards. Obtain motor vehicle records, check references and follow your instincts in judging each prospect.

• When it comes to road service or truck tire service, make sure your techs are well-qualified for the duties they will be expected to perform, such as using the proper equipment for protection against serious injury. And make sure your service trucks have the right safety equipment, including a tire cage if necessary. Even the most experienced tech makes mistakes, so don’t tempt fate. TIA training programs are great tools.

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• Have a disaster plan. Be prepared in the event of a catastrophe with a workable plan for recovery to facilitate getting back into business as soon as possible with the minimum amount of interruption or liability exposure.

Take a Closer Look
So, is your shop safe? As a business owner, it’s your responsibility to find out. Here’s a plan to get started.

It begins with a basic inspection of your facility. Your employees should get involved and the four location areas suggested earlier should be reviewed – the service area, the stock area, the waiting room and the outside area. Get your suppliers and insurance agent involved. You might want to set up a “buddy system” arrangement with another shop owner in the area. Each dealer could act as a pair of discerning eyes and help to inspect each other’s facilities.

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Establish clear safety procedures, a set of guidelines and a checklist for each of the four areas. Commit the procedures to writing and assign responsibilities with employees to perform regular inspections. Keep a binder where all employees can review the procedures, and a log for them to document regular inspections and updates.

Hold a safety meeting with all employees and review the established guidelines and procedures. Have each employee sign a statement that they understand and will comply. If safety equipment is required as part of the new procedure, it should be provided to each employee.

If training is required, establish a schedule to ensure that each employee is provided with what is necessary to perform his or her duties in a safe manner.

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This cannot be a one-time effort. It needs to become an ongoing routine and be reinforced on a consistent basis. Inspect what you expect. The procedures should be reviewed and updated as needed, and employees should be kept abreast of all changes.

We’re no longer just in the business of selling tires and fixing vehicles. We’re in the people business, and we need to take care of the people who take care of our customers and ourselves.
A safe working environment should be as important as the brand of tires we sell. Safety doesn’t just happen unless the dealer makes it an established part of the ongoing activities and establishes policies and procedures to ensure compliance.

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A vehicle lift is the centerpiece of most full-service bays, providing unrestricted access to many parts of a vehicle. But if a lift fails, a technician can be seriously injured.

 

“It is imperative that tire dealers consider safety when deciding which lifts to buy,” says John Rylee, director of marketing for Rotary Lift. “Once the lifts are installed, proper operator training, maintenance and inspections should be part of the shop routine to ensure the lifts’ continued safe operation.”

The Automotive Lift Institute (ALI) has found that most accidents involving vehicle lifts are caused by improper vehicle spotting, a lack of lift inspection and maintenance, and poor operator training.

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The first step in lift safety is to purchase and install only lifts that have been third-party tested and certified by ALI to meet ANSI/ALI ALCTV-2006 safety standards. These lifts bear the gold ALI Certified/Validated by ETL label. A list of certified lifts is available at www.ali-directory.org.

Making lift inspection a standard operating procedure at the start of every work day will go a long way toward keeping lifts functioning properly. Additionally, ALI recommends that all vehicle lifts be inspected by a qualified inspector at least annually.

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Because maintenance routines and intervals vary among manufacturers and lift types, it’s important to follow the specific maintenance, adjustment and lubrication recommendations provided by a particular lift’s manufacturer.

Your lift installer should provide training on new equipment, but it’s important to ensure that new employees receive proper training on existing lifts, as well. The ALI Lifting It Right manual is available from member companies with a training DVD and safety quiz to serve as a training aid to teach technicians the correct way to lift vehicles.

Proper use of the lift as outlined in the operations manual that comes with each Rotary lift is paramount, Rylee says, especially to always lower the lift to a locking position before attempting any vehicle service or repair work.

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