Guide to OSHA Car Wash Inspections
Most people don’t consider car washes to be hazardous work environments. Indeed, when responsible operators do their best to take safety regulations seriously, the typical car wash is a pretty safe workplace. However, these facilities regularly deal with motor vehicles, mechanical wash equipment, wet conditions and concentrated chemicals. These risk factors make these businesses subject to OSHA’s standards for general industry and open them to the potential for an OSHA inspection.
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Our predominant advice is to follow all OSHA standards to the best of your knowledge and ability. When you have no safety violations, inspections are a breeze. They’re also less likely because your safe working conditions reduce the chances for injury or employee complaints. Let’s talk more about OSHA inspections and what your car wash should prepare for.
Understanding the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 aims to give workers a workplace free from recognized safety and health hazards. The rules help eliminate or limit exposure to toxic chemicals, excessive noise, mechanical dangers, temperature stress and unsanitary conditions. In the car wash industry, many businesses need to consider their cleaning chemicals, the mechanical elements of their wash tunnels or wash bays and noise levels.
By design, the act itself and the OSHA administration work to:
- Assure safe and healthful conditions for working men and women.
- Assist and encourage states in assuring safe and healthful working conditions.
- Provide research, information, education and training in occupational safety and health.
- Authorize enforcement of the standards contained in the act.
OSHA regulations help provide a safer workplace for all, and as such, the rules can be complicated. Some broad standards apply to a wide range of industries, and others aim toward specific sectors known to be more hazardous. Because of that added complexity, it can be challenging to determine which regulations apply and what OSHA considers car wash requirements.
For example, depending on the cleaning chemicals and techniques your wash uses, you may be subject to some cleaning industry considerations alongside some other general industry standards. And because you and your workers work around vehicles and may even drive them for customers, you also have to consider the criteria for motor vehicle safety. Some other essential considerations for following OSHA requirements include:
- Wet floors and slipping hazards
- Impaired lines of sight from equipment and sprayed water
- Electrical hazards from cleaning equipment, especially those exposed to water
- Personal protective equipment for workers involved in cleaning cars and handling chemicals
- Worker training and hazard communication
- First-aid supplies and techniques
- Proper ventilation or respirators for vehicle exhausts and cleaning chemicals
- Lockout/tagout programs for all workplace equipment
When Do OSHA Inspections Occur?
The first thing to remember is that an OSHA inspection can happen at any time. Among situations requiring immediate attention or investigation, OSHA often randomly selects workplaces to inspect. These inspections are unscheduled and unannounced. The idea behind random checks is that your workplace should be keeping up with OSHA standards at all times, not only when you suspect a review is coming.
However, there are other times when OSHA will also come to inspect your premises. OSHA inspections can occur when:
- The administration suspects specific industries are presenting hazardous workplace conditions.
- A business has recently had a severe injury on the premises.
- Workers report — anonymously or otherwise — dangerous conditions or OSHA violations.
- A business has recently had a citation, and a follow-up visit ensures they have resolved the conditions or violations.
- The police, fire department or another agency, individual, media group or other organization refers OSHA to a particular workplace.
While inspections can happen anytime, OSHA tries to focus its resources on the most hazardous workplaces first. OSHA prioritizes their inspections like so:
- Situations that present an imminent danger
- Workplaces with recently reported fatalities or severe injuries or illnesses
- Worker complaints of violations or hazards
- Industry- or workplace-targeted inspections
- Follow-up inspections
Data from 2019-2020 indicates that OSHA inspections for car washes are relatively uncommon. In that period, OSHA only performed 11 inspections on car washes, resulting in 47 total citations total. Considering that the industry has an estimated 54,406 establishments in business as of 2021, this inspection rate indicates that the industry is not frequently subject to targeted inspections.
However, the chances of inspection are much higher for a car wash that violates OSHA standards because poor work conditions may prompt employees or third parties to contact OSHA or cause an injury that warrants inspection.
Because inspections are usually unannounced, it’s essential to confirm that the OSHA compliance officer is who they say they are. Ask for the inspector’s badge and make a copy of it for your records and call your nearest OSHA office to confirm. If you want, you can invoke your right to request a warrant before allowing the inspector to continue. However, doing so can prolong the inspection process and make it more stringent. As a result, you may become subject to more targeted inspections in the future.
How Does OSHA Conduct Inspections?
A typical OSHA inspection takes place in person at the chosen facility. However, in some cases, OSHA may conduct an inspection over the phone.
High-priority concerns will typically necessitate an on-site inspection. The six steps in an on-site inspection include the following.
Before arriving at a workplace, OSHA compliance officers research the employer. They look over the company’s inspection history alongside its operations and processes. This groundwork helps them determine which standards are likely to apply. They will also gather their personal protective equipment and any testing instruments.
2. Presentation of Credentials
When the inspector arrives, they present their credentials, including a photo ID with a serial number. The employer has the right to examine and make a copy of the badge.
3. Opening Conference
Before inspecting the facility, the compliance officer explains why the administration chose the workplace. Then, they’ll describe the scope of the inspection, alongside their procedures for the walkaround, employee representation and employee interviews. The employer selects a representative to accompany the inspector. The employees may also choose a representative if they want to. During the initial conference and throughout the walkaround, the inspector will privately consult with a reasonable sample of employees.
Next, the compliance officer, accompanied by all chosen representatives, tours all portions of the workplace covered under the inspection’s scope. The inspector will look for signs of hazards that could lead to injury or illness and confirm the proper posting of the official OSHA poster. They’ll also review worksite injury and illness records.
As part of the process, the inspector may point out apparent violations they discover that the employer can correct immediately. While the employer will still receive a citation by law, they can demonstrate good faith by remedying the concern as the inspector calls it out. During the walkaround, the inspector will minimize work disruptions and keep any trade secrets they witness entirely confidential.
5. Closing Conference
Finally, the inspector meets with the employer and the employee representatives to discuss findings. They will present any violations and hazards uncovered and recommend courses of action. In some cases, the employer can have an informal conference with an OSHA officer to discuss corrective actions or look for consultation services. The officer will also tell the employer that they have the option to contest citations and proposed penalties and remind everyone of workers’ rights.
6. Results and Appeals
Inspections that uncover violations or hazards result in citations. These include a description of the violations, a proposed penalty and a deadline to correct the hazards. OSHA announces their maximum penalty fines, adjusted for inflation, each year. Violations fall into five categories, including:
- De minimis — a technical violation that does not impact health or safety
- Failure to abate
After an employer receives citations, they have the option to work with an OSHA area director to discuss their inspection and reach a settlement. OSHA’s primary goal is always to eliminate hazards and maintain compliance rather than issue citations or collect penalty fees. The administration has a policy of reducing penalties for small employers like independent car wash owners and those acting in good faith. However, they will not do so for willful violations.
If OSHA receives referrals or complaints of low-priority violations, employers might undergo a telephone inspection instead of an on-site inspection. These inspections are usually preferable and give the employer a chance to correct any violations. To conduct a phone-based review, OSHA needs the permission of the complainant, who may remain anonymous.
Under the telephone inspection procedure, the employer receives a call where an OSHA representative describes the safety and health concerns. They follow up by sending a fax on the safety and health violations identified. Then, the employer has five days to respond in writing, identifying the problems and listing planned or completed corrective actions. If OSHA deems the response appropriate and the complainant is satisfied, this will generally conclude the inspection, and no on-site visit will be necessary.
If a phone inspection identifies any violations or hazards, the inspector will issue citations and propose penalties as they would with an in-person inspection.
What Can OSHA Cite Car Washes For?
OSHA releases annual statistics on their most common citations and violations. Their list includes many citations that apply to car washes. Their annual statistics also include the number of citations for businesses under NAICS Code 811192 — Car Washes. Here are some of the violations a car wash operation might receive citations for.
While fall protection in the construction industry is the No. 1 most frequently cited OSHA standard, it’s also a concern in the car wash industry. If your car wash uses scaffolding, stairways or work platforms, you need to ensure adequate fall protection through guardrails and potentially a fall arrest system. OSHA standard 1910.28 outlines your duty to have fall protection and falling object protection. In the last OSHA reporting period, one car wash received a citation and a $3,400 penalty for violating this standard.
OSHA’s standard 1910.22 governs walking-working surfaces in general industry. Wet floors and soap, oil and polishes can contribute to falling, tripping and slipping hazards, one of the most prevalent workplace injuries in the car wash business.
To avoid citations for this standard, you must provide drainage on floors that are frequently wet and, where feasible, create dry standing places using platforms or false floors. You must also have mats.
Personal Protective Equipment
OSHA often ensures workers wear safety goggles, gloves and other appropriate PPE when dealing with concentrated car wash chemicals. While only one wash facility received a citation for eye and face protection in the one-year period ending in October 2020, the resulting penalty was $2,776.
OSHA standard 1910.133, a subpart of Personal Protective Equipment, governs eye and face protection. Though washing cars only exposes workers to diluted cleaning chemicals, OSHA still looks for appropriate eyewear. Your chemicals’ safety data sheets should outline the proper PPE for each chemical your facility uses.
According to the latest OSHA data, standard 1910.1200 for hazard communication is the most frequently cited standard for car washes in 2019-2020. Among the 11 businesses that faced inspections, seven car washes received 18 citations related to hazard communication. Car washes work with concentrated chemicals and other hazards that require classification, proper labeling and signage. In addition, workers need thorough information and training in the risks they work with.
Respiratory protection hazards were the third-most frequent OSHA citation in 2020. In the car wash industry, it’s the second-most common citation. Two facilities received six citations for this standard from the 2019-2020 data period. Under OSHA standard 1910.134, car washes must have adequate ventilation in the wash bay and anywhere else that exposes workers to cleaning chemicals and exhaust fumes. If ventilation systems are unfeasible, the car wash must provide workers with respirators.
Control of Hazardous Energy Via a Lockout/Tagout Program
Car washes have lots of powerful electric equipment and require a written lockout/tagout program to ensure all equipment is de-energized when not in use. OSHA requires car washes to comply with standard 1910.147 when any equipment may contain stored or residual energy when not in use. In the latest reporting period, OSHA issued one citation to a car wash for lockout/tagout-related hazards, resulting in a $2,813 penalty.
Ladders or Scaffolding
Car wash facilities that clean cars manually often use ladders and scaffolding for manual cleaning and detailing on roofs and larger cars and trucks. OSHA standard 1910.23 governs the use of ladders and stairways in general industry. Car washes need to pay extra attention to these rules, since the wet environment can increase the chances of workers or ladder feet slipping.
Scaffolding is another popular option, especially for facilities that detail taller vehicles like RVs and trucks. If you use scaffolding, it must comply with standard 1910.27.
In the 2019-2020 reporting period, one car wash received a $7,160 penalty for a mechanical power-transmission apparatus citation. All car wash machinery is subject to OSHA requirements, including standard 1910.219, which covers mechanical power-transmission apparatuses, such as belts. Conveyor belt car washes need appropriate guards to prevent employees from becoming caught in the conveyor system. Most mechanical machines, such as spinning brushes, require some sort of guard to prevent accidents.
Examples of OSHA Inspection Citations
Two of the cases outlined below represent some of OSHA’s most newsworthy inspections, resulting in flagrant violations and pricey penalties. A cursory search of OSHA’s inspection history for establishments with the words “car wash” in their names reveals that many inspections turn up only a few violations with minor fines, and many penalties get reduced significantly. We’ve also included some of these more typical examples so you can get a feel for the range of citations possible.
Splash Handwash, 2009
Splash Handwash’s Fairfield, Conn., location received $62,500 in proposed fines in 2009, following a severe worker injury and some repeat citations.
The inspection resulted from an incident where an employee got caught in an unguarded conveyor track and suffered foot and ankle injuries. According to OSHA standards, the conveyor belt opening should have had a guard or covering. Inspectors also identified chemical, electrical and mechanical hazards associated with the facility’s equipment and chemicals. The inspection yielded 11 serious citations with $29,500 in proposed penalties, including:
- Unguarded conveyor opening
- Misused extension cords
- Uncovered electrical outlets in wet areas
- Energized grounding terminals
- A locked emergency exit
- A too-narrow exit corridor
- Unmarked exit doors
- Tripping hazards from hoses and cables in working areas and uneven concrete
- Untested safety valves on air compressors
- Unguarded pulleys and belts
- Lack of emergency eyewash stations for employees who work with corrosive cleaning chemicals
It also turned up repeat citations that added $30,000 to the proposed fines. These included:
- Lack of eye and face protection for a worker exposed to chemical cleaners
- Lack of appropriate training about chemical hazards and PPE
These citations were repeat offenses because the company’s other locations in Norwalk and Greenwich, Conn., had previously received citations for these violations.
Finally, the company received five more other-than-serious citations, tacking on an additional $3,000 in proposed fines. These citations revolved around uncertified and incomplete illness and injury logs.
Swifty Car Wash, 2016
In 2016, Atlanta, Ga., Swifty Car Wash underwent an inspection resulting in $42,700 in proposed penalties. This inspection also occurred after a workplace injury requiring hospitalization caused an employee to suffer the amputation of two fingers. The car wash attendant was working near a ventilation fan, slipped and had his hand caught in the fan’s unguarded blades. The investigation resulted in serious citations such as:
- Exposing employees to machine parts and equipment without guards
- Inadequate fall protection due to missing safety rails
- Not providing appropriate eye protection for workers using corrosive cleaning chemicals
- Exposing employees to electric shock hazards
- Failing to provide written procedures for energy control to prevent machinery from powering on during servicing and maintenance
- Not developing written hazard communication for employees handling chemicals
The inspection also yielded another citation for failing to report a work-related hospitalization to OSHA within the allotted 24 hours.
Village Car Wash, Inc., 2019
A more recent inspection at Village Car Wash in Pomona, Calif., in 2019 provides a more typical example of an inspection that results in citations. The case turned up 12 total violations. At first, the inspector identified four serious violations and eight classified as “other.” After concluding the process, the inspector changed two serious violations to “other” with reduced penalties, and lowered the initial proposed penalty of $35,500 to $10,275. Even the two serious violations, which both had an initial fine of $9,450, had their fees reduced to $4,050 each.
OSHA’s reports do not publicize the specific violations or citations identified in this case.
What If You Receive a Citation?
The first thing to do after receiving a citation is to read it immediately. Mark all abatement dates in your calendar and give yourself plenty of time to resolve the concerns before the listed dates. Don’t be alarmed by the proposed penalties. If you’ve demonstrated good faith by fixing issues promptly, OSHA often reduces the fees.
Next, you must post the notices at or near the identified violations. This measure is to inform workers of the potential hazards. The posting must remain until you resolve the hazard or for three working days, whichever is longer.
When you receive an OSHA citation, you have several options. First, you can correct the condition by the abatement date listed on the notice. Or, you may request an informal conference with your OSHA area director within 15 working days to discuss the violations and abatement dates. This conference gives you a chance to present any evidence and explain your reasoning to have citations adjusted or abatement dates extended. Such a meeting can result in an amendment to the penalties, citation classifications and abatement dates.
When you correct cited violations by the abatement date, you must promptly notify the OSHA area director by sending a letter of corrective action. Your letter must explain the actions taken and indicate the date on which they occurred. When OSHA allows an extended abatement period, you must protect employees in the meantime. In these cases, you must also provide a periodic progress report on your interim actions.
To contest any of the findings, you must inform the OSHA area director within 15 working days in writing that you intend to contest the proposed penalties or citations. Note that if you request an informal meeting with the area director, this timeline remains the same. Unless you challenge the penalties, payment is also due within 15 working days of receiving your citation and penalty notification.
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JBS Industries has been serving the car wash industry with premium car wash products and industrial cleaners since 1979. We pride ourselves on innovating products with superior chemistry, and we take safety seriously at every level. Contact the JBS Industries team for detailed product data and safety information on any of our products and for advice on using our products safely and compliantly in your car wash.