Consider these safety precautions before allowing customers in the bay area.
Should customers be welcome in the work area? The answer to that question is obvious if operating a coal mine or hazardous chemical plant. This same question - "should customers be allowed into the shop?" - is often asked in the automotive industry, but the answer is a little more complicated. Why? Consider these factors common to many in the automotive industry:
• A customer loves his car and wants to know what will be done to it;
• A customer wants the technician to provide proof that a part really needs to be replaced;
• A technician or other employee wants to "show and tell" what should be done to properly repair the vehicle;
• A customer needs to retrieve an item from the vehicle after it's already in the shop;
• Waiting customers want to walk out into the shop to see how the work is progressing; and
• There are customers who merely "wander" into the service area to "look around."
"No" is the most prudent answer and easily supported from a risk management perspective. The exposure and chance of an injury, created by inviting a non-employee into a facility, is not worth whatever a shop hopes to gain by allowing them in. The walk from the parking lot and into the customer waiting area is hazardous enough. Just ask the many automotive businesses that have had to deal with customer falls and injuries, the resulting paperwork and possibly even an insurance claim or two.
Whatever the reason, any customer entering a work area may become a liability exposure for a business. Hazards commonly encountered by customers - icy parking lots, wet floors, loose rugs and stairs - are scary, but consider the work area. Think of all the ways employees have been injured - customers are now also subject to these same risks. Principal among these are:
• Slips, trips and falls
• Falls from elevations
• Falling or flying objects or particles (from grinding, chiseling, sanding, etc.)
• Contact with moving vehicles
• Walking into stationary objects (work tables, lifts, etc.)
• Electrical hazards
• Caught in between equipment or vehicles
• Burns, cuts and lacerations
There are countless hazards and many opportunities for injury. However, a risk adviser will typically advise that a shop never allow customers in work areas. They may also recommend posting signs declaring, "Due to Insurance and Safety Regulations, Customers Are Not Allowed in the Service Area." As a matter of fact, Zurich provides customers with signage to post in a place of business specifically for this purpose. Shops need to be proactive and take responsibility about posting their established policies; this helps protect customers. It may also help prevent or reduce the number of claims.
Automotive Service Customers
It's not always that simple though, is it? Sometimes good customer relations compel shops to allow customers in bays. And sometimes it's not just limited to customers. Over the course of normal business, vendors, contractors and other parties will visit on-site and can present a liability exposure as well. That being the case, shops should be prepared and have procedures in place that help control the exposure. Consider the following when putting together a visitor's policy:
• Make sure visitors are always escorted by an employee when allowed in the service area(s).
• Designate hazardous areas as "off limits" to visitors such as in-ground pits, near operational equipment such as grinders, air compressors, tire balancers, etc.
• Cordon off work areas where hybrids, electric vehicles or their batteries are being worked on - as is often recommended by the manufacturers.
• Provide safety equipment to visitors if it is a requirement of employees working in the shop. Allowing visitors to enter without required safety gear (i.e., eye protection) could undermine a safety program.
• Consider painting or marking walking lanes on the shop floor to outline areas where visitors are permitted to walk.
• Challenge or ask politely all unescorted or unknown visitors, "May I help you?" No one should be allowed to walk through the work area without an employee escort.
• Develop and implement a self-inspection program to help identify and correct unsafe conditions or hazards before they contribute to an accident.
• Develop an accident/incident investigation form and train key employees on how to conduct an investigation and complete the form.
• Thoroughly investigate all customer-related incidents, identify unsafe conditions or practices and take prompt corrective action.
• Ensure the floor surface is slip-resistant for the safety of visitors and employees.
• Implement an aggressive housekeeping program - floors and walkways should be kept neat, clean and clear (unobstructed).
• Clean up liquid spills immediately, especially oils and other automotive fluids. Isolate all spill areas by placing cones or barriers around them.
The liability connected with customer accidents and injuries that occur on a shop's premises often falls on the business owner. It is important to maintain a safe, visitor-friendly facility. This includes parking lots and other exterior areas, as well as the showroom, customer waiting areas, restrooms and vehicle service areas. As an additional benefit, the controls that are implemented help protect the general public and will also help prevent employee accidents. A shop's effort and dedication can make the difference in a successful accident prevention program.
This is intended as a general description of certain types of risk engineering services available to qualified customers through Zurich Services Corporation. Shops are in the best position to understand their business and their organization to minimize risk. The subject matter of this publication is not tied to any specific insurance product nor will adopting these policies and procedures ensure coverage under any insurance policy.
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