GLENDALE, Ariz. — Managing the Laundromat’s safety seems almost like an afterthought to some owners, but there are several areas in and around your mat that can be potential hazards for customers and employees. Knowing how and when to manage these potential hazards can reduce the odds of someone getting seriously hurt and lower your legal exposure.

GENERAL SAFETY

Floor and Doors — Due to the large percentage of slips-and-falls in retail businesses (both real and fraudulent), this should be your first area of attention. From the parking lot, through the doorways and all throughout your mat, people’s walking areas must be as flat and level as possible. There should be no wide cracks, holes, bumps or steep grades.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a trip hazard as any vertical change over a quarter-inch or more at any joint or crack. Sidewalk trip hazards are huge legal liabilities, so it’s best to repair sidewalk cracks immediately. If you have a steep grade or stairs, make sure there is a handrail for people to hold onto.

The texture of your floor should not be too glossy, and any liquids, especially detergents and softeners, should be cleaned up immediately.

Many mats are installing automated doors to make it easier and safer for people to get in and out of the store. Automated doors are also an excellent “silent salesman,” giving people yet another reason to use your mat.

Training — Proper and routine training (and retraining) is crucial if you want your crew to be able to respond to a hazardous situation without reacting like a “deer in the headlights.”

Always ask the question first before explaining. For instance, pose this question: “A fire breaks out in dryer 23. Tell me how you would handle that.” Some crew members will give you a good explanation, some will not. Show them all how to handle it.

I always gave the first hour of safety training to a new hire myself, so I knew the new employee learned how to respond.

Every time I showed someone how to react in an emergency, I always asked for a return demonstration. I was amazed at how I could show someone how to handle something and get “Yes, sir” and affirmative nods, only to discover that they didn’t quite get it when I asked them to show me themselves.

Make sure you review all your safety procedures on a regular basis because people do forget pretty quickly, and even more so when panic sets in! Repetition, say, once every 4-6 months will keep them ready and able to respond in the best way.

Post signs with simple step-by-step instructions for each emergency procedure, because some will panic and forget what they learned.

Getting back to the dryer fire scenario, make a sign to go over your fire extinguisher that says something like:

  1. Turn off power first to stop dryer airflow from fanning flames.
  2. Call the Fire Department to get them on the way.
  3. Take the fire extinguisher to the dryer, slowly open the door (or have someone else do it for you while you take aim – remember to stand back) and blast the base of the fire.

Make sure all crew members know how to quickly shut off every machine in your mat, including the gas, electrical and water supplies. (Install ball valves for shutting off water; they are much easier to close than a screw-type gate valve.)

Crime Deterrents — You want to prevent holdups, so keep your mat well-lit. A brightly lit store deters all sorts of crimes, especially if you keep your windows clear. Plus, a bright store makes people feel safer, so you will attract more customers.

Having plenty of security cameras helps you stop customer fights dead in their tracks if you or a crew member says this during a heated argument: “Both of you, please calm down! My boss has security cameras all over the store and you both are being recorded right now.”

They will still be angry as hell but will look at the cameras and grumble something as they back off. Then, your crew can help resolve what caused the fight to start, so that no one takes it to the parking lot.

Speaking of video, if you can afford it, upgrade your surveillance system to the newer high-definition cameras, and make sure there are no “blind spots.” At least one large video monitor showing most of your cameras in action should be visible in the store. It’s a great deterrent for bad guys. You can even get “license plate cameras” for your parking lot.

I always liked having an old video system plugged in near the front counter in case a bad guy wanted to smash it, thinking it would kill the recording. Meanwhile, the real one was safely hidden.

Use the same tactic for safes. Keep a dummy safe near your counter that can be opened quickly by a crew member and containing enough money to satisfy an armed robber. This could save a worker’s life.

And any warning signs you post should be bilingual.

Check back Tuesday for Part 2: fire protection and more!