OSHA Is On the Prowl

From missing exit signs to inappropriate behavior by employees, a dealership can get in hot water. For the last two years, few dealers have been focused on anything but keeping their businesses above water. So some of them haven't paid much attention to whether proper exit maps are posted or safety goggles hang near the service-area grinding machines. But somebody does pay attention to that, such

From missing exit signs to inappropriate behavior by employees, a dealership can get in hot water.

For the last two years, few dealers have been focused on anything but keeping their businesses above water. So some of them haven't paid much attention to whether proper exit maps are posted or safety goggles hang near the service-area grinding machines.

But somebody does pay attention to that, such as representatives of the Occupational Safety and Health Admin.

And with the economic market storms subsiding, the federal agency's auditors are out and about looking for violators.

“That will increase as stores continue to consolidate and people move around, because change like this automatically lends itself to compliance people being more attentive to auditing businesses for OSHA violations,” says Terry Dortch, president of Automotive Compliance Consultants in Crystal Lake, IL.

“The average dealer has probably already been through one OSHA audit since the market has eased and sees the real threat that noncompliance can be,” he adds.

An OSHA audit itself isn't an outrageous financial risk, Dortch says. But if noncompliance has resulted in someone getting hurt, fines can be very high, from $20,000 to $30,000 and as high as $90,000.

“And this is a cost not covered by insurance,” he says.

What violations could result in a big fine? None of them may seem too egregious, but each has the potential to cause or result in employee injury.

Five giveways that your dealership might be at risk and a great candidate for an OSHA audit:

Your shop is not Department of Transportation-certified. Dealerships today must be, as they handle hazardous materials, including used motor oils, activated air bags and the like.

  • Required signage is missing. This includes door markings such as “Exit” or “Not an Exit.”
  • Exit route maps are not posted as required by law.
  • Parts, parts shelving and crates stacked up adjacent to and blocking access to electrical panels put a shop in violation of both OSHA and fire codes.
  • Missing protective eyewear around grinders, welders and similar tools and machinery.
  • Missing fire extinguishers or extinguishers not properly marked or located where easily visible.

“Dealers usually think they are in compliance with these areas, yet when we walked into a dealership to conduct a pre-audit inspection or help the dealership get into compliance after an OSHA compliance, we find that isn't often so,” Dortch says.

Another dealership risk that is growing in frequency is harassment, whether it is intended to be good-natured or not. “It is a huge problem,” Dortch says.

Some dealerships resembles good-old-boys' networks, he says. “We become comfortable with each other and we sometimes say and do things with each other that, while not malicious, are not the right things to do.”

He cites a store where one salesman is Middle Eastern. Other salespeople placed camel-shaped animal crackers around his office when he was out to lunch.

“They were trying to be cute, but they were being stupid,” Dortch says. “And when we work side-by-side with women in the car business, we sometimes start to think they're one of the guys and we do or say stupid things there too.”

Same-sex sexual harassment claims in the workplace are more common today than ever. It's not that such inappropriate behavior is new, but today it can end up in a lawsuit naming a business where it allegedly occurred.

“Sexual harassment suits can be crippling, yet many dealers keep their heads in the sand about these behaviors,” he says. “The right attitude about compliance must come from the top.”

Sensitivity training helps, so that staffers know lining up camel-shaped animal crackers in a Middle Eastern employee's office is wrong.

“But training won't help protect a business from malicious employees,” Dorctch says. “That's where thorough background checks are critical. And if you do have someone on staff like this now, get rid of them.”

TAGS: Dealers Retail
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