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Employee emergencies

October 11, 2010
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Do your employees all have drivers' licenses? What do their driving records look like? Have any of them ever been drug tested?

These are the questions carwash owners may need to start asking or should already be asking.

Asking employees these questions, and asking yourself what kind of insurance coverage you have are increasingly important at full-service carwashes where peoples' cars, and possibly their lives, are in your hands.

The problems

Over the past several months, the carwash industry has seen an increased number of accidents at full-service carwash facilities.

In May 2005, Professional Car Care Online reported that Brenda Lee Brown, a customer at Town N Country Carwash, Tampa, FL, was struck by a sport utility vehicle being cleaned by a carwash employee. The employee accidentally knocked the gearshift from neutral to drive.

Brown, who was walking across the property toward her vehicle pushing her 18-month-old son, was struck and died due to head injuries.

Thankfully, Brown's son survived the accident, however, this incident and several others around the country have prompted questions regarding employee training and safety measures.

Since May, PCC Online has reported on five separate carwash incidents that resulted in death, injuries or extremely dangerous circumstances, which could have resulted in both of the aforementioned.

These episodes aren't limited to one area of the country either; Florida, Iowa, New York, Connecticut and Canada have all been the scene of employee related accidents.

License to drive

In several incidences, the question at hand was whether or not the employee had a valid drivers' license.

At full-service carwash operations especially, employees are often responsible for moving customers' vehicles. Carwash owners need to be vigilant in checking that workers have a current license.

According to Paul H. Smits, a senior vice president at Charlotte, NC-based Carpenter, Cammack & Associates, Inc., a company which specializes in insurance for full-service carwashes, several experienced wash operators have already put some safeguards in place to prevent accidents like these from happening.

Some operators have designated employees who perform the task of moving the customers' cars to the drying area. These employees have been fully trained and screened, and have worked at the site for a longer period of time, or are older, Smits said.

Screening involves running a Motor Vehicle Record check on the employee to make sure they have a clean record with no major violations and an active license.

At some full-service sites, wash owners also have procedures in place for higher-end vehicles, such as Jaguars, Mercedes, or BMWs. When these vehicles are serviced, according to Smits, sometimes only the manager will move it to the drying area.

Pro-active approach

A carwash owner can be vicariously liable for any acts of their employees while in the course of their employment, regardless if they are licensed or not, Smits stated.

The more pro-active an owner is in putting safety programs in place, the less likely the wash will be to have unnecessary accidents.

Proper screening and background checks on any prospective employee will help the safety program, as well as continuous training and reiterating safety guidelines.

Insurance awareness

Setting up a comprehensive safety program can also lead to preferred pricing on your insurance based on your past experience and current risk management procedures, Smits said.

However, if you've had a frequency of accidents, then you might be faced with higher pricing or even a chance of non-renewal.

According to Smits, a full-service carwash owner also has the option of purchasing higher limits of liability through an Umbrella Excess policy.

This policy will provide limits in excess of the primary limits shown on the policy form. Smits said typically it is in excess over the general liability, automobile liability and employer's liability limits.

Umbrella limits start at $1 million and go up from there in million-dollar increments.

Safety first

Although screening every employee, setting up designated roles, and even periodically drug testing employees may seem like an excessive effort on a wash owner's part, in the long run these actions could prevent the one accident that could destroy your business.