The Pillars of Car Wash Safety

Safety is a number-one priority for operating a successful car wash. Here is some helpful advice for preventing incidents at your site.

Four greek columns and workplace safety signs help remind you to put safety on a pedestal.

“Safety first.”

Between your mom, your kindergarten teacher, and the little guy on wet floor signs, you’ve heard the idea a million times: You should always put safety first.

One of the biggest mistakes a car wash owner can make is treating safety like an extra. It’s easy to put operational safety on the side when your main drive is keeping production high and costs low. Rubber mats and good posture may not pay the bills, but you’ll quickly find shrugging off safety can cost you dearly.

The price an owner pays for running an unsafe car wash isn’t always front and center. While higher insurance premiums, larger damage claims, and associated expenses cut deep into a bottom line, the “soft costs” of operating a hazardous car wash can hurt even more. It may seem insensitive, but every employee on leave with a broken arm is one less person washing cars. The damage done to a customer’s vehicle scars your reputation as much as it hurts your financials. In the worst cases, safety violations and other noncompliance issues will shut a site down for good.

As cheesy as it sounds, a thriving car wash is built on a foundation of safety. All the little things you do to keep your site and employees safe will actually make you more productive, not less. Training, planning, and upkeep do wonders for reducing interruptions and keeping cars rolling through your tunnel.

A safe and profitable operation rests on four pillars: General Safety, Mechanical Safety, Chemical Safety, and Vehicle Safety. By building up each pillar, your car wash will stand head-and-shoulders above the rest.

The More You Know

While there’s a lot of useful information here, this is really only the beginning of operating a safe site. The International Car Wash Association has several resources for helping your car wash remain safe and successful.

General Safety: The Classics Never Go Out of Style

The first pillar of safety is also the most basic. Don’t roll your eyes, though — Vince Lombardi believed in the fundamentals, and so should you. General operational safety goes a long way in keeping your site incident-free. In addition, the repercussions of violating or ignoring general safety policies can be severe.

As you are intimately aware, you need to comply with Occupational Health and Safety Association standards at a minimum. Since you are operating a private business, it’s your responsibility under law to provide a safe working environment for your employees. There are way too many OSHA standards to list here, but know you’re on the hook for all of them. You may also be operating sites in states with their own OSHA plans. In those cases, state standards override federal ones, although the idea is essentially the same everywhere: Keep your employees safe by playing by the rules.

You can check out this guide on OSHA, or visit OSHA’s employer page to find answers for just about any question you may have. You probably know a lot about OSHA standards already, but it’s always good to refresh your memory to keep from getting dinged on your next inspection.

Tips for Keeping Your Car Wash Safe

  • Make sure your ladders are up to spec, and that your team doesn’t overload them during use.
  • Train your employees on how to reduce slips and falls. Make sure guardrails and other fall protection systems are installed and intact. Keep walkways clear of equipment and debris.
  • Remind employees of proper lifting methods and work posture. It sounds silly, but this is probably the best thing you can do for your team’s health and safety.
  • Make sure every employee knows the correct procedures for emergencies. Your team should know what to do in case of fire, injury, or any other incident.
  • Enforce clothing guidelines that reduce the chance of injury. Make sure your team’s uniforms don’t contain loose or baggy elements that will catch on equipment.

If you ever want to double-check your site to keep from getting fined, OSHA offers free on-site consultations. You won't be penalized for anything they find, and you may even qualify for a one-year exemption on your next inspection.

Mechanical Safety: Keeping Incidents on Lock

Your tunnel has a lot of large, moving parts. While each one delivers a fantastic wash for your customers, they are also a potential hazard for your team if you don’t take the right precautions.

Forming and following a set of policies to reduce risk is critical for preventing injury or damage due to mechanical equipment. One of the biggest things you can do is keep your team up to date with your site’s ‘lockout-tagout’ procedures. Your LOTO process doesn’t just keep you kosher with the law; it protects the lives of your employees. Just having tags and locks isn’t enough. Train and refresh your team on your site’s LOTO and other equipment maintenance procedures on a regular basis.

Advice for Keeping Your Team Safe Around Machinery

  • Keep a daily, weekly, and monthly equipment check record to make sure everything in your tunnel is in tip-top shape.
  • Keep your team away from machinery while it is in use. Avoid stationing employees in areas of your site where they will need to work in close proximity to active equipment, if possible.
  • Create an emergency stop procedure for your site: For example, the only employee who restarts your tunnel is the employee who activated the stop.
  • Clearly label areas and equipment with electrical hazards. Train your employees on how to handle electrical equipment and what to do in case of an emergency caused by electricity.

It likely goes without saying, but the greater the distance you can place between your team and the active machinery in your tunnel, the better. This is one of the greatest benefits an automated, full tunnel anti-collision system like NoPileups can provide for your site.

Chemical Safety: Knowing is Half the Battle

Machinery isn’t the only safety risk your team encounters on a daily basis. It takes a number of chemicals to make a car nice and shiny, and many of them can be hazardous if not handled correctly.

Proper handling, usage, and storage of hazardous chemicals is crucial to keeping your employees safe. As you’ve probably guessed by now, having a procedure in place for your team will reduce the likelihood of injury and minimize any harm if something does go wrong. Your employees should be familiar with every chemical you use and how it should be handled. If there’s a spill, contact with skin or eyes, or any other mishap, every employee needs to be ready to act fast and appropriately.

Chemical Safety Tips

  • Employees need to wear proper eye and skin protection when handling chemicals. This means goggles or face shields — simple eyeglasses aren’t going to cut it.
  • Have copies of each chemical’s Safety Data Sheet on hand. If one of your employees needs to be taken to the hospital due to exposure, this info can speed up treatment and possibly avert serious or permanent injury.
  • Clearly mark any vessel used to store or handle hazardous chemicals. Don’t repurpose hazardous material containers, either, as this can create confusion for your team.

Vehicle Safety: Protect Your Customers and Their Cars

The fourth pillar is built on keeping your employees and customers safe around the cars you’re washing. The idea of vehicle safety is one you might not think of right away since your site already has so many other concerns before a single customer rolls in. However, just like they taught you in driver’s ed, cars aren’t a toy (even if they’re awesome). Customer vehicles can do serious damage to your equipment, your employees, and even other customers.

Advice for Safely Managing Vehicles

  • Post (and enforce) speed limits, stop signs, and other signage around your site.
  • Give clear and simple directions to your customers, and limit the flow of traffic at your site to ensure drivers don’t become confused and cause an accident.
  • Strictly enforce safety rules for customer vehicles. Everybody gets excited when an awesome car comes through your tunnel, but never let it get out of hand.
  • Be cognizant of every vehicle at your site. Use a consistent, one-directional flow to keep vehicles moving at an even, predictable pace.

As an anti-collision monitoring system, NoPileups is perfect for helping your team keep track of the vehicles in your tunnel. If a customer does something unexpected, like shifting out of neutral, NoPileups can prevent an accident that may otherwise cause damage to their car, another customer, or your equipment.

Always Remember: Safety First

Operating a safe car wash can feel daunting, but it it’s worth it not just for the sake of profitability. A shining reputation is a point of pride you’ll feel every time a customer safely leaves your tunnel. Your employees will get more done knowing they work somewhere that takes their well-being seriously. While these tips are only a small piece of keeping your sites incident-free, they go a long way in making sure your car wash is as safe as it is successful.

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