Motor trade risks

Traditional risks like fire, occupational illnesses, theft and vandalism will always need some consideration, but technological developments in the motor trade industry, such as electric and hybrid vehicles, are introducing additional hazards into the workplace that equally need to be managed.

Extra care needs to be taken when working with and around airbags and seat belt pre-tensioners as they often have a small explosive change/pyrotechnic ignition device built into them. There may be additional explosive parts in some vehicles and so it's vital to check the manufacturer's guidance before starting work that might expose parts to extreme heat, flames or sparks.

Regarding storage of explosive parts, there are strict rules set out under various regulations, such as the Explosive Regulations 2014 and Pyrotechnic Articles (Safety) Regulations, in addition to the  Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR).

Conventional lead-acid vehicle batteries can cause fires and explosions during recharging due to the release of hydrogen gas involved – particularly when a battery is overcharged. The risk is present even in newer 'maintenance free' valve regulated types as they can release hydrogen if the pressure inside the battery becomes excessive.

As well as the fire and explosion risk, workers can be endangered by exposure to hazardous substances and electricity while working with vehicle batteries, so it's vital that any work involving them is carefully planned.

Besides concerns about theft when providing courtesy vehicles and allowing customers unaccompanied demonstrations, there are various issues around liability should the vehicle become damaged or the customer injured while they're in control of it.

Checks must always be made on the driver's licence and appropriate insurance arrangements need to be in place before a customer can take the vehicle. It should also be compulsory for the driver to get a demonstration of the various aspects of the vehicle that ensure safety and security, as well as any unique characteristics they should be aware of, such as cruise control settings.

Nowadays, there are very few businesses that have no way of being affected by a cyber threat. As your motor trade business is likely to manage its financial accounts and store customer, manufacturer and supplier details, including personal information, on internet-enabled devices there is a risk of theft through tactics like phishing, malware installation and website spoofing.

You need to be able to trust your employees that handle and drive vehicles for business purposes, so it's important that your recruitment process, training programmes and ongoing assessments and refresher training are effective in preventing unsafe driving practices.

Following recruitment or the introduction of new vehicles to the business, you should find out what formal driver-vehicle introductions are required and ensure that these are conducted correctly and by someone competent. A driver-vehicle introduction should cover any unusual operating systems (e.g. security or loading), or any features that the driver has little or no experience of (such as anti-skid braking systems (ABS)).

Delivering a targeted and well-structured driver training and assessment programme can help you maintain a positive reputation by showing that your business has a good attitude to safety. Additionally, it will reduce the likelihood that your drivers will be involved in collisions, preventing interruptions and saving money.

Fixed electrical installations and electrical equipment that don't get maintained in a safe condition, or aren't adequate for the demands that you put upon them can increase the risk of a fire. Additionally, unlike other health and safety hazards which can be seen, felt or heard, there's no advance warning of danger to people from electricity.

Regular reviews of the wiring and protective devices within your premises, especially in older buildings, can help reduce the risk of fires and shocks. Wiring and protective devices may not match up to current standards and as your business expands and electrical installations and equipment advance there is a risk that they will become overloaded. Inspections by competent electricians or electrical contractors must also be carried out at appropriate intervals so that issues can be found and the danger removed.

Any employees working with electrical equipment should have training that enables them to work safely. Specific training should also be provided to employees who work with and around electric and hybrid vehicles.

The popularity of electric and hybrid vehicles is only increasing and so there's a need to adapt working environments to suit the hazards they come with.

The battery packs in these vehicles contain a lot of stored energy which can be released in a number of potentially hazardous ways, e.g. if the battery is damaged or faulty, or recharged incorrectly. Many electric cars use nickel-metal hydride batteries, but some use lithium-ion batteries which have been known to ignite (due to thermal runaway) as a result of faulty manufacture or damage.

Preventing employee theft in motor trade businesses is not an easy task as the stock and equipment is often inherently mobile and employees are regularly alone with them. Minimising lone working and putting physical security precautions in place will help, but you should start with developing employment methods that can aid you in determining if an individual is trustworthy. The methods for preventing joyriding will be similar to those for theft, although limiting the amount or level of high-powered or prestige vehicles in your care can be one way of avoiding the risk altogether.

On top of the risk of access to vehicles being abused, and much like the majority of other businesses, motor traders handle lots of invoices, receipts and cash takings, bank account details and other financial documents which an employee could manipulate so measures need to be in place to manage and secure these as well.

Escape of water can be described as water from the mains water supply system escaping from a pipe, tank, appliance, etc into the property. This often takes the form of a burst pipe. In comparison, other forms of water damage can be caused by, for instance, river flooding, coastal flooding, surface water flooding or storm damage.

Since there's often no alternative but to park vehicles in the open on forecourts, your business may be a very tempting target for an arsonist. Arson is a leading cause of fires on commercial premises that don't have this extra vulnerability, so it's particularly important to consider the risk if you're in a motor trade.

Arsonists are most likely to strike while the premises are unattended so specific defences need to be arranged for evenings, holidays and other closure periods. If a fire is started, it could spread rapidly with the potential for explosions if it reaches areas where petrol, oils and lubricants are stored.

To protect people and property should a fire start there needs to be a range of passive and active measures designed to suppress, if not extinguish, the fire and ensure that there is more than enough time for everyone on the premises to make a safe escape.

Accomplishing this requires consideration of a range of control and safety measures, including:

Any business should assess how vulnerable it is to flooding as the consequences of a lack of preparation can be catastrophic. Besides the usual advice about storing materials and equipment above the expected depth of water, motor traders should consider the process of moving vehicles to a safe and secure location that's less likely to be impacted.

Sign up to flood warnings so that you get as much time as possible to consider and execute action, but before even this you should plan where vehicles can be moved to and whether help from others might be needed.

As much as possible, fuel retrieval should be avoided as it can be a very hazardous exercise, but we understand that there are scenarios where a task can only be done safely if fuel is extracted beforehand.

The area where fuel retrieval takes place must be free of ignition sources and the workers involved must have the appropriate knowledge, skills and experience and work according to a written safe system of work (SSOW).

Motor traders can be more vulnerable to 'opportunist theft' due to the mobile nature of the stock, but even more so if security is lacking with regards to keys.

Keys left out in the open, or, even worse, in the ignition, can lead to vehicles disappearing within a moment of inattention. Employees, customers and visitors all need to be vigilant about this hazard so workers should be instructed about prevention measures and signs placed in parking, pick-up, drop-off and delivery areas.

Sometimes it's too easy to get caught up in doing things quicker and forget to risk assess a task. Whether a lifting operation involves elevating an entire vehicle or loading old tyres into a van, it needs to be properly planned and it must be ensured that the people involved have adequate training and equipment that's suitable for the task.

Hoists, overhead cranes and their supporting runways, cranes fitted to vehicles, vehicle lifts, jacks, some types of body alignment jigs and goods lifts are all examples of equipment that can be used for lifting operations. They must be appropriately maintained and inspected and used in accordance with the requirements of the  Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER).

Machines don’t have to be big and complicated to be capable of injuring an employee. In motor garages, even small simple ones like bench-mounted grinding wheels or pillar drills can do serious harm if they're not properly protected, maintained or used in a safe way.

To comply with requirements of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER), anyone using machinery must have received appropriate training and access to information about its operation and maintenance (e.g. the manufacturer's manual). Workers need to understand that they shouldn't interfere with safety measures provided to protect them and others, such as fixed or interlocked guards, trip systems, jigs and personal protective equipment. Additionally, safe systems of work (which include pre-use checks) may need to be put in place alongside a maintenance and inspection regime.

The term 'manual handling' applies to a variety of actions that involve moving an item using your body and it can therefore range from picking up a box of papers from a shelf and setting it down next to a printer to pushing or pulling large and heavy equipment into position. Poorly managed manual handling operations are a leading cause of injuries in the workplace.

Injuries caused by manual handling are grouped under the term 'musculoskeletal disorders' (MSDs) and can take the form of muscle strains or spasms, inflamed joints, stiffness and spinal disc herniation (aka, slipped disc), amongst other conditions.

The Manual Handling Operations Regulations (MHOR) set out a hierarchy of measures, the first of which is to avoid such tasks (by eliminating the need for them or mechanising the process). Consequently, workers should only ever be carrying out manual handling tasks where there's no alternative and beforehand there should be an assessment and measures to reduce the risk implemented.

Motor trade premises are often very noisy environments, especially if effective measures are not being taken to minimise the noise levels from machines and processes. It's not a good enough excuse to say that noise is to be expected; All employers have duties under the Control of Noise at Work Regulations to protect their workers against the potential health risks posed by exposure to noise.

A 'buy quiet' purchasing policy for equipment is a good place to start after all methods of eliminating a source of noise have been investigated. Adaptations can then be made to the workplace and working practices, including erection of room dividers and restricting noisy work to certain times and/or locations. Mats on hard floors and specially designed panels on walls and ceilings can also help muffle noise and reduce echoes. Providing hearing protection should be the final step to manage the risk.

Being aware of what potential pollutants you have onsite and making appropriate arrangements can go a long way to reducing the chance of a pollution incident.

Leaks and spills can be caused by accidental overfilling of tanks or a deliberate act by vandals but the law will always hold the owner or occupier of the premises the pollutant has escaped from responsible, regardless of who is deemed to be 'at fault'.

In motor trade premises it's likely that there is a considerable amount of oil, amongst other pollutants. There are a number of different regulations which apply to the storage of oils of various types. The regulations can vary between England, Wales and Scotland, so it's important that you understand those relevant to each of your premises.

Employers have a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of workers while they're on the road as part of their new job and when it comes to motoring offences, it's not just the driver who may be prosecuted.

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act, implemented in 2007, makes it a possibility for those in authority within a business to find themselves facing serious charges, so the implications of not taking due care shouldn't be taken lightly.

As well as the legal aspects, employers have numerous financial and moral obligations, such as environmental impact, that often costs more than the monetary value of an insurance claim.

Your equipment and the spare parts kept onsite are often high-value items, therefore they become just as much a target as vehicles. In fact, a thief may target a vehicle, but not so they can steal it – instead, they may extract specific parts. Catalytic converters are particularly sought after as the value of the metals used to create them (e.g. platinum, palladium and rhodium) has risen significantly in recent years.

An added reason to invest in site security is the risk of arson due to the flammable and explosive nature of materials involved in motor vehicle care.

Security measures like remotely monitored CCTV, metal fencing, safes and removing theft-attractive items outside business hours should work in combination to deter and detect intruders and delay or deny access to their target.

Fatalities and injuries due to vehicle collisions in workplaces often come about because little was done to keep pedestrians out of danger's way, but in motor trade premises there's the added hazard posed by vehicles unexpectedly moving or slipping off lifts during repair jobs. Those who are responsible for health and safety must assess and manage the hazards from both accidental movement as well as from vehicles intentionally moved around the site.

Accidental movement often happens because the vehicle is left in gear with the handbrake off and an employee starts the engine from outside the vehicle. These incidents can have life-changing, and even fatal, consequences if an open door impacts a pedestrian nearby, or the vehicle goes over or pins and crushes a person in its path. During induction and refresher safety training, all workers should be told to only ever start the engine while they have both feet inside the vehicle at the pedals.

Slips and trips are a common cause of injuries in most workplaces. In motor trade premises these accidents might happen due to the floor becoming slippery after a fluid is spilled, during and after washing cars and when weather conditions are wet or icy, or because of a trip hazard like a pothole or trailing cable.

Falls might occur where there is an inspection pit or an employee is working on a high-sided vehicle. The Work at Height Regulations (WAHR) are just as relevant around inspection pits as a place is 'at height' if a fall could cause injury, regardless of whether it's at or below ground level. WAHR also deals with the risk of objects falling from height (e.g. items slipping off shelving).

The risk of a fire or explosion is particularly high in areas where spray painting tasks are done due to the flammable nature of vapours. Consequently, all spray painting activities must take place in a designated, ventilated area that complies with the   Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR).

Examples of other substances which may be highly flammable include certain specialised cleaning products, thinners and finishing products. If vapours are released, leak or spill from their containers an explosive atmosphere in your workplace can be produced.

Spray painting also comes with various health and safety issues (such as dermatitis and asphyxiation) that should be addressed by risk assessments designed to (at least) meet the requirements of the  Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations and other related legislation.

Workers' exposure must be limited by providing personal protective equipment and appropriate clothing and enforcing clearance times in paint spray booths. The selection of these provisions should be based on the findings of appropriate risk assessments and supported by training and supervision.

Where gases are stored under pressure in cylinders, damage to the cylinder (due to vehicle impact, for instance) can lead to an uncontrolled release of the gas. There will then be the risk of either ignition of the gas or propulsion of the canister, just like a missile. The consequences of such events can sometimes be fatal.

In motor trade businesses the risk from vibration may present itself quite differently across the workforce due to the range of duties being carried out. A driver’s exposure to vibration will be quite different to a mechanic's, for example.

The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations (CVWR) were introduced to ensure that employers address and control this hazard. Anyone responsible for health and safety and all affected employees need to be made aware of the early symptoms of vibration-related illnesses, which can include tingling fingers, being unable to feel things properly, loss of strength in hands and blanching of the fingers (when skin will turn white due to a lack of blood flow and then become red and painful during recovery). These symptoms can affect people in both their work and personal life as they may cause further issues like sleep deprivation, reduced grip and an inability to do anything that requires fine co-ordination.

Waste materials can pose both a fire and pollution risk and so they must be dealt with carefully, particularly considering the flammable and explosive nature of products involved in motor trade operations.

To prevent fires and explosions, waste should be stored in containers (ideally metal) with lockable lids. For compliance with environmental legislation (which can vary throughout the UK), the different types of waste need to be stored separately - hazardous waste should never be mixed in with non-hazardous materials or with another type of hazardous waste - and whoever transports it from the premises must be a holder of an appropriate licence for each type and transfer documents exchanged.

Waste commonly produced by motor businesses that is categorised as 'hazardous' by the European Waste Catalogue (EWC) includes:

  • certain oils (hydraulic, lubricating, transmission, etc.);
  • fuels;
  • some antifreeze products;
  • brake fluids;
  • components containing mercury;
  • air bags;
  • brake pads containing asbestos; and
  • clothing and cloths contaminated with hazardous substances.

Welding is an inherently hazardous task, and so it's even more dangerous in a situation like a motor vehicle garage where there can be a variety of flammable and explosive materials.

If no safer alternative can be found to welding or other hot work near a vehicle fuel tank, the fuel will need to be retrieved, which is in itself a risky task.

As stock, company and customers’ vehicles may be left exposed to the elements out on forecourts, they may be vulnerable to damage when a storm hits – particularly if hail is involved. In addition, buildings, inside and out, can be impacted if there are any defects that need repairing or strengthening, but this can be easily managed with regular building inspections and planned maintenance programmes.

Strong winds and hail, amongst other weather conditions, can make driving more hazardous so drivers need to be appropriately experienced and prepared for a scenario that means they can't continue a journey or are stuck in standstill traffic when it's likely to be very cold.