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Which employee is going to ruin you?

October 11, 2010
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In May, the carwash industry was shocked by an accidental death at a Florida full-service carwash. A mother was struck by a vehicle driven by a carwash employee, right in front of her infant child.

As much community outrage as there was about this death, authorities decided to file no charges against the carwash employee. He had a clean record and just made an honest and tragic mistake.

However, the incident did spark a debate in the carwash industry about safety measures, with many full-serves wondering whether the same thing could have happened at their facility.

In fact, an incident like this may be just waiting to happen at many full-service carwashes throughout the country.

According to an online poll conducted by Professional Car Care Online, only 23 percent of responding carwash professionals say they currently drug test employees prior to employment. Even more frightening, only 13 percent of those who do not drug test said they would even consider it.

These numbers match with anecdotal information we have heard from operators for years. Drug testing, they say, is expensive and cumbersome for employees that just quit after several weeks.

This is an understandable frustration. But what are the chances that some of your employees are presently under the influence of illicit drugs? Statistics show the odds are pretty good.

A University of Michigan study commissioned by the federal government and issued in 2004 found that 31 percent of 10th graders and 39 percent of 12th graders had used illegal drugs in the past year. Mind you, those are the ones admitting to it.

So, if you have even 10 teenagers on staff — as many full-service carwashes do — odds are that three of those employees are fairly current drug users. Actually, a study by the Department of Health & Human Services found that one of those three employees will have been using drugs within the past month.

Maybe most of those teenage employees do not drive customer vehicles, but they still may be responsible for guiding customers and ensuring their safety in some manner. Whether an employee is at the entrance or exit end, there are always cars moving around.

Maybe you only let your slightly-older shift leaders, assistant managers and managers drive vehicles. The DHHS study found that drug use within the past month was actually higher in the 18-to-25 demographic than the 12-to-17 demographic. When it comes to illicit drugs, older does not always mean wiser.

Many operators would like to think they would be able to tell if an employee came to work stoned or otherwise impaired, but on a busy day, with one hundred things happening at once, who knows? And don't expect your drug detection skills to hold up in court.

Employees on drugs are more likely to steal or cause accidents. It may be a burden to drug test your employees, but in a situation where your livelihood — or your customers' safety — is at stake, how can you afford not to?