Archive for March, 2011

Environmental Health and Safety Start At The Top

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

A successful environmental health and safety program has to start from the top.  Without executive involvement,  even those programs designed and implemented with the best of intentions,  sputter and frequently fail.  With the increase in regulatory audits management must be an active not a passive participant. Outsourcing training, facility inspections and using software to track and report on compliance can be a terrific cost and time saver but does not replace management oversight. If management is not actively engaged in ensuring a safe workplace employees will not be engaged.

For some great tips on how to create a safety culture in your organization with authentic management engagement watch this  short video by Wayne Curtis, Director of Client Operations for KPA.

Workplace Dangers in DETAIL: The Wash Bay Connection

Friday, March 25th, 2011

On a busy day, the floor can be covered in soaps, “engine juices,” oils, chemicals,  and solvents. Flammable liquids in 55 gallon drums line the wall, with a high risk of explosion from any ignition source.

This is where the safety culture at your dealership gets the road test. In the detail department, where staff is usually subcontracted, and not normally a part of the safety committee. How do you measure the risk of workplace hazards and compliance liabilities in this work area?


Here’s the short-list of what to consider in your wash bay risk assessment:

  • Hazard Communication:  All affected employees should be aware and regularly reminded of:
  • Primary Containers:  all primary containers must have specific hazard labeling requirements.  Primary container labels should consist of: manufacturer’s name and address/phone number, product name, and a specific hazard warning.  Contact the manufacturer immediately if this information is unavailable.
  • Secondary Containers: all secondary containers (spray bottles, etc) must be labeled to their contents and have appropriate hazard warnings.
  • Organization: all materials and chemicals should be kept organized.

  • Cleanliness: The wash bay should be regularly sprayed-down, swept, and cleaned.
  • Everything should be stored and sealed when not in active use.
  • Wash Bay attendants should wear protective gloves, and wash hands frequently.
  • Proper footwear: work boots are ideal. On a busy day, the floor is too slippery for sneakers or street shoes.
  • No smoking in the wash bay. No exceptions.

Subcontractors and Liability
Even if the work is subcontracted, the dealership could be liable for accidents or injuries. OSHA fines and financial liability both play a part. You should make sure that your subcontractor has adequate insurance. Get a certificate of insurance from your subcontractor, check that the coverage is adequate  and keep it on file at your dealership. As the primary employer at the dealership, OSHA may also find you responsible for your subcontractor’s omissions. Check up on all of your subcontractors to make sure they’re not cutting corners.

Internships: Paid or Unpaid?

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

With daydreams about laying by the beach and warm, hot summer days looming in the near future, comes the burning staffing question: are we going to need student interns who are on their summer break and (quite possibly more important) do we have to pay them?

As defined by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), internships with “for-profit” private companies are most likely viewed as employment (i.e. “suffer or permit to work), thus being considered non-exempt from minimum wage and overtime compensation requirements.  However, there are a few circumstances where internships in “for-profit” private companies may be unpaid.  The Department of Labor applies the following six criteria when determining whether an unpaid internship is legal:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training in which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

Are you abiding by the Fair Labor Standards Act with your summer interns?

Want To Stop Whistleblowing? Give Out Whistles

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Never want to face a whistleblower initiated  investigation or lawsuit? Then encourage whistle blowing. Give your employees “whistles” and tell them to blow them,  asking that they blow them internally first. Creating a strong culture of internal reporting and resolution of issues is the best way to avoid costly government investigations and lawsuits. Plus having documented procedures and policies and a history of following up on employee complaints is critical if you do have to respond to an investigation, audit or lawsuit.

Here are simple steps that give your employees the chance to “blow the whistle” internally and create a safe, ethical and legal workplace culture.

  1. Create a policy for reporting issues or violations that includes:
    • How to report using formal mechanisms such as hotlines and  e-mail mailboxes
    • Communicates the process of voicing concerns, such as a specific chain of command, or the identification of a specific person in the organization
    • Clearly states that no retaliation will be tolerated
  2. Establish a connection between your businesses code of ethics, your safety standards  and performance measurements. Acknowledge and reward those employees who hold themselves to the highest ethical  and safety standards.
  3. Management  Buy In. Upper management must demonstrate a strong commitment to reporting and resolution of issues. Every manager should be trained on the corporate policy and required to have an “open door” policy for reporting issues.
  4. Talk it Up. Top management should make every effort to talk about the commitment to ethical behavior and a safe workplace in memos, newsletters, and speeches. Publicly acknowledging and rewarding employees who report issues sends the message that management is serious about addressing issues.
  5. Follow Up. Managers must investigate all allegations of improper, illegal  or unsafe conditions promptly and thoroughly.  Inaction when an issue is reported is the best way to create cynicism about the seriousness of an organization’s ethics policy.
  6. Check Up. Find out employees’ opinions about the organization’s culture. Conducts an annual employee survey related to ethics, safety and open communications.   Some questions to included are: Do you believe unethical issues are tolerated here? Do you know how to report an ethical issue?  Are you aware of any unsafe conditions?  Are you comfortable reporting issues to upper management?

Join the conversation:  Do you have an internal issues  reporting program?

Does having “Adonis DNA” provide protection under GINA?

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

In the midst of the Charlie Sheen media frenzy, several important questions in the Sheen vs. CBS/Warner Bros. dispute are being overshadowed by the sensational personal videos and interviews.  Should an employee’s personal life affect his/her employment?  What if that employee is making vast quantities of money for himself/herself and the company? Does having “Adonis DNA” provide protection from non discrimination in the termination process under the new GINA (Genetic Non- Discrimination Act) regulation?

With Charlie Sheen’s controversial personal antics, CBS and Warner Bros. finally starting questioning fitness for duty. Some ask why it took this long for them to finally take note of Sheen’s personal actions.  Did it have anything to do with the fact that Charlie Sheen helped make “Two and a Half Men” one of the top syndicated shows on television?  Probably. Other high earners in the entertainment industry, professional sports and business have been given considerable leeway from normal standards of conduct.  But in the end, high earners are not exempt from negative and/or questionable personal public image, even if means the loss of high earnings for the employee and high revenue for the company he/she represents.

Warner Bros. indicated that they fired Sheen because his erratic personal life became a liability for the company and started to affect his ability to perform on the show. Notice that the employer was very careful to focus on the ability to perform the job (fitness for duty) as the reason for termination. While most employees will not have a contract and the employment relationship will be “employment at-will” it is still very important  that the employee is never fired for anything that could be construed as discriminatory. While “ having tiger blood” or being “a rock star from Mars” are not protected classes (at least not yet) employers must ensure that employees are never fired because of race, gender, sexual orientation, national origin. “Adonis DNA” certainly sounds like a genetic issue, but  isn’t covered under GINA (Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act). There may be upcoming legislation to make trolls a protected class after Jon Cryer’s revelation on the Conan O’Brien show.

ICE Crackdown on Employers of Illegal Immigrants

Friday, March 11th, 2011

The office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a unit of the Department of Homeland Security,  announced a new  audit office,  the Employment Compliance Inspection Center.   The center will be staffed with specialists who will reveiw I-9 employee files collected during audits. In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2010, ICE conducted audits of more than 2,740 companies, nearly twice as many as the previous year. The agency levied a record $7 million in civil fines on businesses that employed illegal workers.  Employers must complete the I-9 form within three days of hire and all documentation must be accurate.

Tamara Lischer, PHR, CA-PHR and HotlinkHR Client advocate dicusses best practices for ensuring your I-9 forms are in compliance.


The Most Unusual Violations

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

Each year, KPA engineers conduct over 10,000 facility inspections across the country. Each of these inspections involves intense and detailed work. Why do they do it? Because a professionally executed inspection is the most direct way to measure risk exposure at an automotive facility. If risk is measured, then it can be managed.
On each inspection, engineers learn about what is going on behind the scenes as cars are being bought, sold, repaired, and serviced. There is an excitement. Sometimes there are surprises. Recently, a few KPA engineers described the most unusual safety violations they have witnessed in the field. These issues have since been addressed, and names and locations are omitted to protect anonymity.
“Last week, I observed an employee scooping water and sludge from the dealership’s oil/water separator tank. I was told they have to do it once or twice a year when the detail drains back-up.”

“ A technician was a taxidermist on the side, and there were several dead animals laying around his work station.”
“I inspected a body shop where they had food hanging from the ceiling. It was clear coated, but it was still collecting mold.”

What is your experience? Could something like this happen at your facility, or are these stories a 180 from your operations?

The Pep Boys Story: A New Kind of Repeat OSHA Violation

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

Recently,  OSHA cited Pep Boys for serious and repeat safety violations. The chain faces a total of $75,000 in fines. The unusual part of the report is the way that OSHA counted the violations.

What happened is that in 2009, a citation was issued to a facility in one location for OSHA violations. In 2011, a different Pep Boys facility was found to have similar hazards as the first facility. This second location was issued fines for serious and repeat violations because OSHA counted the violations as though all Pep Boys facilities are a single unit.

The implication is that OSHA expects company-wide communication from all businesses with more than one rooftop. This is why the Instant Compliance Visibility feature of MyKPAOnline delivers a quick snapshot of compliance for all levels of the organization down to the individual manager.

Your Parts Grinder Can Pass an OSHA Inspection. Here’s How.

Monday, March 7th, 2011

OSHA recently issued five citations totaling $75,000 to the Pep Boys auto service company after a facility inspection in Hamden, CT for a “repeat violation.” The previous citation was at a different franchise location. At the center of the fines is a parts grinder.

Parts grinders, or abrasive wheel machinery, were the third most cited auto dealership violations in 2010. Parts grinders are citable violations because by nature, they involve contact between employees and equipment. Robert Kowalski, OSHA’s area director in Bridgeport, warns the chain that, “It would be to the benefit of its workers’ safety company-wide for this employer to determine if similar hazards exist at other stores and to eliminate them if they do.”

Watch this two minute video. It explains what OSHA looks for in parts grinders during an inspection, how to comply with OSHA standards, and also has safety tips for parts grinder operators.

How To Ship Recalled Airbags

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Airbags contain hazardous materials. Requirements for commercial shipping of these materials vary depending on if your parts department will ship the airbags by ground or air.

Ground Shipments

  • Dealerships are required to provide DOT hazardous materials training for any employees involved with the activity of shipping airbags (or other DOT Hazardous materials such as batteries, lubricants, cleaners, additives, paint, etc.,)

Air Shipments

  • Shipping Hazardous Materials by air is inherently much more dangerous than ground transportation and involves more training, preparation and precautions.
  • Domestic shipments of hazardous materials require training that has an air shipment section that is DOT compliant as well as satisfying carrier specific requirements.
  • For international shipments air carriers are only able to accept hazardous materials packaged in conformance with the International Air Transport Association’s Dangerous Goods Regulations (IATA DGR).
  • To meet IATA DGR standards, any employees involved with the activity of shipping hazardous materials are required to maintain current IATA certification which takes at least 3 days of training to complete.

KPA recommends that all clients should review DOT certified employee status:

  • make sure that you have an adequate number of employees certified to cover all shifts where shipping and receiving activities occur, and that only certified employees engage in these activities;
  • ensure that all certifications remain current – certification is valid for 3 years, at which time employees must be recertified.
  • weigh the FAA audit risk and additional certification time and cost vs. the time savings in air shipment of hazmat.
  • Watch this 2 minute video “Air Shipping Protocols Auto Dealers Need To Know” also available at


Clients with additional questions on DOT hazmat certification, FAA investigations, and IATA certification are encouraged to contact their KPA engineer.