Weathering Winter OSHA and Maintenance Issues at the Car Wash

Aug 2, 2021 -- Posted by : Ted

Preparation ensures cold weather safety and equipment efficiency
by Gina Houser / Safety, Health & Risk Manager, Howco Inc.

While successfully operating a car wash requires establishing sound safety and maintenance procedures that are pertinent year-round, seasonal weather shifts bring their own specific crop of challenges best met with knowledge and planning. One crucial way to avoid car wash OSHA and maintenance issues, in winter and beyond, is to know your car wash property and facility and its idiosyncrasies well.  To use the Boy Scout motto:  be prepared.

In addition to OSHA compliance focused on employee safety in the workplace, these precautions coupled with seasonal car wash facility maintenance can also certainly affect the safety and satisfaction of customers as well as car wash efficiency.

We suggest having a seasonal checklist that not only addresses ongoing potential hazards but adds another layer of review when a weather change is anticipated, especially if significant cold, snow, wind, and/or ice is projected. In creating the checklist, proactively identify the specific lot and building areas and car wash equipment components that are most likely to develop a problem.

When creating a checklist, car wash safety and maintenance areas to evaluate during winter may include:

Ice or snow accumulation

  • Identify areas on the lot where pooled water could freeze and cause slips and falls.
  • Do these spots (or the whole lot) need ice-melt spread in advance of the impending weather, with constant monitoring during and after?
  • How does your lot react or change during the day?
  • Does your lot need to be cleared by employees or plowed by a third party?

Wind issues

  • How does your wash tunnel’s position lend itself to significant, continual wind blowing through the tunnel?  Additional precautions and measures may be necessary to keep equipment from freezing.
  • Problematic wind may also require additional clothing considerations for employees.

Heat sources

  • Are there floor system heaters, bay heat, and/or portable heaters in the bay or tunnel that need special positioning or monitoring, as well as employee education/training?
  • Be sure to test these heat sources before you need them.
  • If the conveyor extends outside, using a tarp to cover the conveyor when not in use can also help prevent freeze-ups.


  • Extension cord ground prongs tend to snap off in cold weather. A missing ground prong on an extension cord is a serious OSHA violation and certain fine.
  • This issue also applies to all appliance and hand tool cords you may have on site.
  • Have you done an overall electrical assessment with an infrared camera that detects hotspots that may be problematic in your electrical panels?

Bay doors

  • Bay doors can freeze up or become sluggish during winter.
  • Do yours require special attention such as heating them or lubricating components (wheels, cables, springs) before opening or closing, including employee training to execute these procedures?


  • It gets dark much earlier in the winter. Are your lights (building and lot) timed to come on appropriately, or do employees activate them?
  • This can be both a safety and security issue.


  • Know the freeze-points of each of your chemicals.
  • Some may need to be elevated off cold concrete floors or even stored in coolers to prevent freezing.
  • Antifreeze and lubricants in distribution lines can also prevent freezing and ensure a constant flow within.
  • As you know, car wash chemistry is vitally important to providing the car wash performance customers expect.


  • Proper, adequate employee hydration is equally important in all seasons, not just summer! This can’t be stressed enough.
  • Employees need to be phased in and acclimated to extreme heat and cold weather and coached on how and when to use layers of clothing.
  • If you have a uniform and visible car wash logo and/or name tag requirements, these issues need to be addressed as well.
  • Employees should have an extra pair of socks available in case their feet get wet.
  • All loose clothing and scarfs should be prohibited when working around moving equipment due to the possibility of it catching and pulling the employee into the equipment, a cause of serious injuries and deaths.
  • Communication with employees during inclement weather is important. How do you communicate schedules, clothing, and safety topics – phone calls, email, texts, communication tree? A plan should be in place, rehearsed, and ready to use.
  • Staggered employee breaks should be considered, especially for newer employees who may take longer to adjust to the challenging weather operation.
  • Non-slip treads are available for work shoes to help prevent falls.
  • Don’t overlook use of proper gloves so employees can stay warm and perform their duties.

At Howco, we guide our customers in addressing car wash safety and maintenance issues via time-tested insight while continually monitoring and studying new cases and advances in the industry. If we can be of assistance as you manage winter OSHA, safety, and maintenance issues at the car wash as well as year-round concerns, please contact the Howco team.

Gina Houser has served as the Safety, Health & Risk Manager for Howco Inc. since 2010. After earning a B.A. from the University of North Carolina Charlotte in 2001, she began her car wash career as a business analyst in 2002 following experience in the insurance industry. She holds a National Safety Council Advanced Safety Certificate as well as a Manager of Environmental Safety and Health (MESH) certificate.