Professional Restorers Share Expertise on ‘Disinfecting’ Vehicles During SCRS Webinar

Professional Restorers Share Expertise on ‘Disinfecting’ Vehicles During SCRS Webinar

Until recently, body shop customers typically brought in relatively clean cars for repair.

Now, collision repair facilities are receiving vehicles with the unknown risk of COVID-19 as a result of the global pandemic, according to Kris Rzesnoski, vice president at Encircle.

To help address body shops’ concerns, the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) held a special webinar for the industry, “How Professional Restorers Deal with ‘Disinfecting’ Vehicles.”

Hosted by SCRS Executive Director Aaron Schulenburg, the two-hour presentation featured two professional restorers with experience in restoration, decontamination and infectious disease control. Rzesnoski and Norris Gearhart, owner of Gearhart and Associates, shared tips on how body shop owners and managers can protect employees and their businesses, as well as consumers and their vehicles.

Jordan Hendler, executive director of the Washington Metropolitan Auto Body Association (WMABA) and the conference administrator of the Property Insurance & Restoration Conference (PIRC), helped coordinate the webinar for the body shop industry to learn how to best respond to the issues at hand.

Kye Yeung, president of European Motor Car Works and past chair of SCRS, shared a shop owner’s perspective dealing with COVID-19. As a SARS survivor, Yeung said he has been proactive in protecting staff and customers at his family-owned business.

Rzesnoski said body shops should evaluate their current processes and develop standardized procedures to manage customers’ expectations, minimize risks and prepare staff.

This includes how the vehicle is received and cleaned at intake, the safety precautions employees follow in terms of masks, gloves and other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and the final cleaning of the vehicle prior to delivering it to the customer.

“This is not business as usual,” said Rzesnoski. “This is a really high priority for businesses to focus on.”

Gearhart said many of the techniques used in the property and restoration industry can be applied by collision repairers.

“The risks to workers have substantially increased,” he said. “I don’t think you could ever be prepared for what happened.”

The following is a summary of the recommendations provided by Rzesnoski and Gearhart.

Schulenburg: Before a shop takes on any work, what are the insurance considerations to keep in mind?

Gearhart: You need to look at your shop’s liability coverage and workers’ compensation exposure. The requirements for providing a safe workplace under OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) doesn’t go away in this situation.

Rzesnoski: You should also do a risk assessment. If there is a risk with a car coming into your shop, you have to decide how to mitigate it. Every customer coming in is a potential COVID-19 patient. What happens if you or your employee cross contaminates a vehicle and a customer gets sick? Or, if a customer brings in a car, and a staff member gets sick and your business is shut down for two weeks? Look at the steps you have taken to protect your business. You might want to talk to a broker to determine if you have business interruption insurance and if it covers profit/loss.

Yeung: As an essential business, we’re thrown out in front. This is all new to everybody. When this first occurred, a lot of supplies they said could work against it weren’t available. Like others in the industry, we did as much research as we could online, used products we had on hand or could purchase and addressed it to the best of our ability.

Schulenburg: What should shops be aware of when taking in a car?

Rzesnoski: When you take a vehicle in, think about the commitments you make to the customer. Part of that is disclosing the products you will use and making the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) available to them. This document is produced in alignment with the UN's Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS.)

Not all cleaners are the same. When you are using a disinfectant, it’s important to ensure it is on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) N List, which describes the disinfectants for use against SARAS-CoV-2. 

Then, you have to follow the instructions for each product. Remember, your customers have a choice in that because you’re putting products inside their vehicles that may affect them differently.

Gearhart: Things seem to be evolving on a daily basis, so be as accurate as you can. Disclosing your process to customers and then following it is as close to a guarantee or warranty you can offer. After you clean with a disinfectant, the moment a person touches it, it completely changes again.

Hendler: How can a shop minimize its risk?

Rzesnoski: We recommend looking at your intake process and the steps you are going to follow. There are a lot of intricacies to consider. These include how the car arrives, how it is handled on the lot and how the keys are received. Do you put the keys in a Ziploc bag for 10 minutes with disinfectant in it? Where do you leave the keys in the shop? I recommend asking the customer to turn off the radio and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system and setting the seat in a neutral position so there are fewer touchpoints.

After the car arrives, you can dilute the atmosphere, open the windows and doors and put high-volume air movers in front of the doors to blow the organic load out. I’m not a fan of sitting in a vehicle to do the cleaning. Attempt to do as much of that as you can from outside of it.

Gearhart: You might be thinking, "How can I stay in business and do all of this?" Many of these practices we should have been aware of in our world before we had to deal with COVID-19. Different shops have different workflows. Depending upon the types of shops you are working in and maybe even the communities where the work is coming from, you might set specific protocols to limit that exposure.

There are many possible solutions that are doable and not unreasonable to mitigate risk. Sit down and figure it out, with us or someone else, to develop that for your shop and then do it exactly the same way every time. This includes how employees remove their PPE and go home from work.

Hendler: What terminology should be used when communicating with customers?

Gearhart: Vocabulary is critical. You need to be careful to say exactly what you are doing and have an attorney look at the documents you put together. If you say you are going to disinfect or sanitize a car, how do you validate that? All you can say is you applied the disinfect per the EPA-registered guidelines. The terms "sanitize" and "disinfect" are two very specific, different terms as far as the EPA is concerned.

Rzesnoski: Currently, there is no testing for COVID-19 so you can’t pre-test a surface and then do a post-test. The best you can do is perform a wash of the vehicle or clean it; cleaning is even a term that is aggressive. You have to be very careful with your language when you talk to a customer and say for example, "We are washing your vehicle inside and out and applying a disinfectant.”

Schulenburg: How can collision repairers prepare staff to work in this environment?

Gearhart: Whatever you are using, whether it’s a product or PPE, you have to be trained. However, it’s amazing how difficult that can be. The problem with this infectious virus is you can’t see it. Therefore, you need to put on PPE in such a way you can systematically take it off without cross-contaminating. That can even be a challenge. One of the ways I train people to get out of PPE is by covering them in chocolate pudding so they can see where they have cross-contaminated themselves.

There are many different products being recommended. Take the time to understand the product you are purchasing and learn how to use it properly. Don’t take some salesperson’s word for it; these products were tested for efficacies through very specific delivery methods.

Many alcohol-based products are not designed for vehicle interiors. It’s best to use a pH neutral water-based product that is on the N List. If you repair high-end luxury automobiles, keep in mind they have fewer coatings and natural leathers and you can’t apply an aggressive cleaner or you will ruin the surface.

In addition to figuring out how you are going to apply a product on a vehicle, you need to develop a process around that product. That means if you have five different products, you are going to have five different processes. If you use a delivery method that is not validated for that product, you could have very drastic consequences.

Schulenburg: Is there an advantage to having the car sit at the shop for a certain number of days so the virus will die?

Rzesnoski: The information we have about COVID-19 is still limited. Although having the vehicle sit alone is an option, it is still risky. There is a lot of exposure because you don't know what is on the surface that is going to keep the virus active, and you haven't taken steps to clean and attack the virus with an application of disinfectant. A sensible approach would be to perform a deep clean of the vehicle’s surfaces, apply a disinfectant and then allow some time to pass before allowing staff to work on the car. That time might range from 24 to 72 hours depending on the protocols that you are following.

Schulenburg: Can heating the car to 160 degrees help kill the virus?

Yeung: When you put a vehicle in a downdraft spray booth, you can get the roof and hood up to 160 degrees, but the interior will be substantially less. Another concern is that higher baking temperatures can damage or destroy the electronics in the vehicle.

Rzesnoski: The challenge is getting a consistent surface temperature. You are not going to get it into all areas of the vehicle, so it’s a false sense of security.

Schulenburg: What are some key takeaways for businesses?

Rzesnoski: It’s a risk assessment. Pay attention to where you are touching the customers’ property and where it might be contaminated, then look at the steps you are taking to protect staff. You have to come up with a process that works for you and your shop. If something occurs that isn’t part of your process, don’t be afraid to address it.

Gearhart: I concur. I always say, "Up front is an explanation; back end is an excuse." Have your process worked out up front, go through it with customers and make sure they understand why you are doing it, and then do it. This is going to depend on your risk assessment and the workflow in your shop.

Hendler: My biggest takeaway is don’t promise something you can’t perform. Be open and up front about what you are able and going to do. Thinking of your employees is just as important as thinking of your customers. As Kris and Norris mentioned, have all of your documentation prepared, know your word track and clearly communicate with customers.

Yeung: The webinar made me rethink some of my current processes. My biggest takeaway is to have a uniform policy that can be shared. Shops should not take shortcuts; with your business at stake, you need to be consistent.

Stacey Phillips Ronak

Stacey Phillips Ronak is an award-winning writer for the automotive industry and a regular columnist for Autobody News based in Southern California.

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