How to Operate a Shop While Minimizing COVID-19 Health Risks

Most of us fall into one of two camps: We work on own cars, or someone else works on our cars. Either way, if people beyond your immediate family are involved, how do you do it safely?

Perhaps others can crib from Eclectic Motorworks, the Michigan restoration shop owned by longtime GRM contributor Carl Heideman. Alan Dalman, the shop’s manager, has published a formal COVID-19 response plan that covers both staff and customers. The internal doc can be found on the Eclectic Motorworks site, while you can read the info sent out to customers in the sidebar of this article (including how and when customers can enter the shop, for example). 

To dig a little deeper on the subject, we also pinged Alan with some questions. 

GRM: Why did Eclectic Motorworks feel the need to formalize this policy?
Alan: We were required by Michigan Executive Order 2020-91 to, in order to require employees to leave their home and come to work, provide a plan to keep them safe. 

There were certain minimum items included based on the types of businesses opening. As an automotive repair shop, we were technically considered “essential” from the very beginning, so we have never shut our doors completely. 

We did adopt some haphazard and rather draconian policies at the beginning because everyone was just freaking out. It became clear to us that the few employees we had were being responsible adults and minimizing their social contact outside of work and were abiding by the general stay-at-home order in place when not at work. The initial policies set up helped keep a barrier between the people in the shop and everyone else. 

Unlike some other businesses or in other localities, we weren't necessarily required to publish our plans or policies. We did so to be transparent with our customers, which is something we've aspired to do with every aspect of the work we do, from detailed and honest billing practices to allowing customers on site to view work as it was in progress. It is also a good idea to just keep your customers informed, especially when a policy such as visiting a shop has been forced to change so dramatically. 

The other reason to formalize the policy was to give ourselves the protection of having it in writing. We're not trying to single out customers who don't wear masks to the shop, as an example, but we're following a policy based on what the CDC, ADA, EEOC, etc., deem to be a genuine threat to our health and safety. 

Our employees are important to us and we don't want to do anything to endanger them. Similarly, our customers are vital to us and we don't want to compromise their health, just as we don't want them to compromise ours. All politics aside, we're trying to be the adults in the room here and be as responsible, or more responsible, than everyone else. 
 
GRM: What can other shops do to follow your lead?
Alan: Don't believe that this is anything other than a crisis. It's a solvable crisis for sure, but you should be taking it as seriously as possible. 

Your customer base may be different than ours, but a lot of our customers—and some employees, too—definitely fall into the more at-risk categories for COVID-19. We know of other shops across the country that have already dealt with or are dealing with employees that have come down with this virus, and we don't want to have to be counted on that list as well. 

Have a heart-to-heart talk with your employees. They're feeling stressed as ever right now. The work will still be there, and it's okay to just worry about today. Make sure they understand the basics of how this virus is transmitted and what they can do to most effectively combat this. 

Also, and this is very important, follow the law. Most places are now providing exceptional protections for employees who do not wish to work during this time. We in Michigan are barred from any retaliatory actions against employees who want to stay home. Make sure you know the rules. Document any trouble spots, but in the immortal words of that movie my young daughter made me watch over and over and over again, just “let it go” in this crazy time.

Make sure you're providing all of the safety gear you need right now: hand sanitizer, face masks, Lysol, anything to clean and properly disinfect tools, doors, steering wheels, shift knobs, etc. Even if you have to pay more than you usually do or buy more than you normally would, just do it. Failing to provide a safe environment is a big misstep. 

Communicate with your customers. If you have an email list–we use MailChimp–a website, or even a Facebook page, update them on the situation. Communication is essential. 

GRM: Anything else that shops should know about operating in these times?
Alan: Do your research on any potential federal and state support for your bottom line if you need it. There is no shame in seeking out assistance. There are also great resources out there for personal finances and alternatives to doing bad things like pulling money out of penalty-ridden 401Ks and other retirement plans.  

Be kind. Everyone is freaking out. Take a deep breath. Politics aside, hopefully this virus is a single-driver and, once infection rates drastically reduce and/or once a vaccine is found, hopefully the economy and your bottom line will bounce back quickly. In the meantime, protect your most important assets—your employees and customers—even if that means protecting them from each other for a while!

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Comments
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chandler
chandler PowerDork
5/28/20 9:04 a.m.

My guys hate it but in three of the states I operate in mask are mandated and the other it's "suggested". I've pointed out that at this time it's not much different than steel toe shoes; you are unlikely to need them but I mandate them in case you do. Does suck on a hot day for dang sure 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
5/28/20 9:59 a.m.

In reply to chandler :

Good way of looking at it: It's like another piece of safety gear. 

chandler
chandler PowerDork
5/28/20 10:01 a.m.

Just part of your ppe.

carczar_84
carczar_84 Reader
5/28/20 10:31 a.m.

Just one thing to look at if using the face coverings while doing any hot work (welding, cutting, grinding, etc.). You will want to find a face covering that is Fire Resistant.  We have found several options and suppliers have been pretty quick to deliver these for our facility.  

ultraclyde (Forum Supporter)
ultraclyde (Forum Supporter) UltimaDork
5/28/20 11:18 a.m.

Exactly. More PPE. Annoying but safer with it than without it. I wish our management would make our employees wear them since production line positions make it impossible to social distance. Unfortunately, state orders don't require it and our owner doesn't believe in them, so there are only a few people wearing them at all. I hope my fears are unfounded.

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) MegaDork
5/28/20 11:22 a.m.

I don't wear PPE in the building because we have a large airy 6 bay shop space for 1.5 techs, and it is a no outsiders zone.  I do don a facemask and one-time-use gloves when I have to be inside a car.  (This is not everything we are doing, just the thread relevant bits)

 

It is SUPER fun when doing an air conditioning test on a road test, and the 40 degree air hits your glasses that you have been directing 98 degree 100% humidity air at every time you breathe out.  Instafog.  I wish my facemasks had an underwire or something.

NorseDave
NorseDave Reader
5/28/20 12:25 p.m.
carczar_84 said:

Just one thing to look at if using the face coverings while doing any hot work (welding, cutting, grinding, etc.). You will want to find a face covering that is Fire Resistant.  We have found several options and suppliers have been pretty quick to deliver these for our facility.  

If I'm welding, cutting, or grinding, I'm wearing a full respirator.  I'm always amazed that this is not SOP for people.  Honestly I'd rather wear a full respirator than any of the newly-fashionable mask options.  I've been considering going to the grocery store wearing my respirator and welding helmet just for the looks laugh 

NOT A TA
NOT A TA SuperDork
5/28/20 12:52 p.m.
NorseDave said:
carczar_84 said:

Just one thing to look at if using the face coverings while doing any hot work (welding, cutting, grinding, etc.). You will want to find a face covering that is Fire Resistant.  We have found several options and suppliers have been pretty quick to deliver these for our facility.  

If I'm welding, cutting, or grinding, I'm wearing a full respirator.  I'm always amazed that this is not SOP for people.  Honestly I'd rather wear a full respirator than any of the newly-fashionable mask options.  I've been considering going to the grocery store wearing my respirator and welding helmet just for the looks laugh 

I have a buddy that wears his respirator and a clear grinding shield to the grocery store.

Any shop that can keep the bay doors open should for fresh air. And also for any offices, waiting areas etc. just keep the doors open even if it's a little too warm or too cool, the air exchange is worth it IMO.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
5/28/20 1:05 p.m.

I recently had some tires mounted at our local Discount Tire: masks and gloves on all of the employees, waiting room furniture moved outside, jugs of hand sanitizer on the counters, markings on the floor 6 feet back from the counter, and the door tied open so you didn't have to touch the handle. 

grover
grover Dork
5/28/20 2:03 p.m.

In reply to David S. Wallens :

Had our tires replaced at a discount tire in Woodstock ga 2 weeks ago and it was the same. Didn't bother me at all. 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
5/28/20 2:15 p.m.

In reply to grover :

And a PS: I was at this same shop a week or two before everything blew-up and closed down. They had big jugs of hand sanitizer on the counter even then. 

carczar_84
carczar_84 Reader
5/28/20 3:41 p.m.

In reply to NorseDave :

For us at least, and most manufacturing facilities, a fitted respirator puts you into a industrial hygiene  respirator program that includes fit test, cleanly shaved, etc.  Just something to think about.

We offer those programs, but so far every welder has refused to shave, so no respirators.  I will say that I think they should be part of the process, and wear one outside of work when I do the work myself.

CrustyRedXpress (Forum Supporter)
CrustyRedXpress (Forum Supporter) Reader
5/28/20 4:01 p.m.

In reply to NorseDave :

Agree on the respirator for welding. The UK (and possibly EU?) recently recognized the fumes as a carcinogen and they now require some sort of respirator/ventilation setup.

NorseDave
NorseDave Reader
5/28/20 9:01 p.m.
CrustyRedXpress (Forum Supporter) said:

In reply to NorseDave :

Agree on the respirator for welding. The UK (and possibly EU?) recently recognized the fumes as a carcinogen and they now require some sort of respirator/ventilation setup.

I've considered getting a proper fume extractor but they are pricey!  I have a light fixture I made above my welding table and I've thought about just mounting a bathroom exhaust fan up there and run a duct 10' away from the table. It would still dump in the same air space, but I figure the smoke and such 10-15' away from me is better than nothing. 

NorseDave
NorseDave Reader
5/28/20 9:03 p.m.
carczar_84 said:

In reply to NorseDave :

For us at least, and most manufacturing facilities, a fitted respirator puts you into a industrial hygiene  respirator program that includes fit test, cleanly shaved, etc.  Just something to think about.

We offer those programs, but so far every welder has refused to shave, so no respirators.  I will say that I think they should be part of the process, and wear one outside of work when I do the work myself.

Fair.  I usually run a winter beard, but never a very serious one (good coverage, just kept short!). I have more issue with getting a proper seal around the bridge of my nose.

alfadriver (Forum Supporter)
alfadriver (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
5/29/20 6:13 a.m.

I've been trying to wear gloves more often when I work, as the mess takes too long to clean off.  

And car people should have been asked about non-fitting mask problems- as the cheap masks I've used in the past have still left crud in my nose.  

+1000 for the tip about flamability of the mask.  Didn't think about that.

But wearing a mask is so much neater than the black snot that comes out when you shower.  Just being clean is happens to be good for Covid protection.

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) MegaDork
5/29/20 6:16 a.m.

In reply to alfadriver (Forum Supporter) :

The thing that sucks is, I normally DO wear gloves when working, but it is just about impossible to find gloves nowadays, so they are being carefully conserved, reserved for when I have to be in a car.   So I'm back to having semi-permanently stained skin like some sort of gas station hack smiley

alfadriver (Forum Supporter)
alfadriver (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
5/29/20 6:23 a.m.

In reply to Pete. (l33t FS) :

At one point, I had heard about a hand lotion that acts like a glove.  Have you heard anything about that?  

(On the COVID front- as time goes on, the gloves are becoming less imprtant, especially vs. respitory protection.  Just wash after touching a new surface that you've never encountered.  Which means more sales of lotions to keep your hands from drying out, lol.)

wae (Forum Supporter)
wae (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
5/29/20 6:59 a.m.

In reply to alfadriver (Forum Supporter) :

And for that problem, you can use your 20% coupon at Harbor Freight to get a tin of Working Hands

EvanB (Forum Supporter)
EvanB (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
5/29/20 8:21 a.m.

There are a number of different barrier creams for that, we sell the Travabon. It does make cleaning your hands easier but not a good as gloves. 

https://www.debgroup.com/us/products/travabon-classic

alfadriver (Forum Supporter)
alfadriver (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
5/29/20 9:21 a.m.

In reply to EvanB (Forum Supporter) :

If you can't get gloves, it's better than gloves.... :)

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) MegaDork
5/29/20 9:27 a.m.

The nice thing about latex gloves is, as long as they are not wet, they don't get other things dirty.  You can wear dirty latex gloves and hold a sheet of paper and not leave marks.

 

Toebra
Toebra Dork
6/22/20 5:03 p.m.

Really, the plastic face shield that covers  your face would probably work better to protect you than the silly face mask thing

Dave M (Forum Supporter)
Dave M (Forum Supporter) HalfDork
6/22/20 7:34 p.m.

In reply to Toebra :

The cloth or surgical face mask is to protect other people, not you. So yes.

In a shop, don't you have N99 respirators already on hand? That's gotta be best in class PPE for covid.

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