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Multi-profit Centers

Risky business at the lube

October 11, 2010
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Lube operators are responsible for creating a safe environment for customers and employees. A safety-management program should be in place for all lube operators.

Every year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fines fast lube operators thousands of dollars for violating safety standards. It doesn’t pay to take a chance.

In addition, many insurance companies are now requiring lube owners to implement safety measures to protect them from future claims.

Pit protection
When talking about lube shop safety, the primary topic is generally protecting the pit, a large opening with a potential 9-foot drop to concrete below. Warning and directional signs throughout the lube are a must to indicate safe walking areas for customers.

There are two basic types of open-pit safety covers:

  • Moveable, all-steel panels; or
  • Flexible nylon netting and webbing.

Steel panels are made of several individual panels per bay that can be stacked at either end or left fully spread the length of the bay, allowing them to be moved to the area you need to service or inspect.

A key benefit of steel panels is if someone should accidentally drive into the pit opening, the panels will hold the weight of a vehicle.

Hard pit covers that fit over open pits can be inexpensive and easy to install. One potential downfall is that employees may tend to forget about the hole that is being covered up.

On the other hand, safety nets constantly remind employees and customers of the pit danger because they are an open web design, similar to a fishnet. Such nets usually come in one section and are easily moveable from both ends of the bay.

Should someone fall into the pit, the nets will keep them from hitting the basement floor below.

Communication between the upper bay tech and lower bay tech is not inhibited, and it allows easy supervision of employees working in the pit.

Lifts and toe guards
Regardless of what you use for pit protection, all pit openings must have a tire guide/toe guard in order to meet OSHA standards.

The pit itself can be a problem when it comes to safety. The possibility for incidents is increased by a large opening in the floor. A few pit alternatives have emerged in the industry.

Many lubes use lifts to service vehicles. This can allow customers to see first-hand what is being done to their car. Lifts are also a good option for operators who have a site with a high water table or face legal restrictions for digging a pit.

A newer fast lube design changes the way a technician operates — literally. It’s essentially a creeper built into a shallow pit running lengthwise in the bay. The technician remains on his back while servicing the vehicle as the creeper rolls the length of the pit.

This system’s proclaimed advantages are that the technician can service both ends of the vehicle, and his working situation is more comfortable as he is reaching out with greater leverage, rather than overhead.

This option is a pre-molded, one piece fiberglass unit designed for secondary containment.

One of the most significant factors in ensuring a safe lube operation is training.

An employee-training program should cover:

  • Safety;
  • Environmental compliance;
  • Product presentation;
  • Customer service;
  • Technical responsibilities; and
  • How to recommend a service to a customer.

Create a setup where employees are taught the rules and held accountable for following them.

Training is not an initial safety session. Inform employees of potential hazards.

By creating a culture that puts safety first, governmental regulations, public relations and private lawsuit concerns will be satisfied.

Howie Loewen, Consultant Multi-Store Operations, Training/ Installs for Integrated Services, Inc. of Portland, OR is one of the nation’s most respected fast lube consultants. For more information, contact ISI at 800-922-3099 or visit

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