I will repeat something I stressed in my last column: Distractions, which may occur for several reasons, may be dangerous. For example, unusually loud music from a co-worker's device may disrupt the concentration of a tech in another bay. (Managing music in the bays is an issue unto itself, is it not?)
The point is that a tech nearby may be performing a task that requires maximum concentration for a safe as well as successful repair.
Sometimes excessive chatter creates the distraction. For instance, I have watched two techs argue about the outcome of a baseball game. Incredibly, all the yelling leads to a "double-header" that no one expected.
One of these guys spins around and goes headlong into the arm of a raised lift. He knocks himself silly and gashes his head. He managed to aim himself squarely at the blunt end of the lift arm.
To add insult to injury, the stunned tech dropped a handful of tiny, hard-to-replace screws. Afterward, his coworkers had to scour the floor to retrieve them.
In other cases, unseen sources of inattentiveness cause trouble. For instance, a normally reliable tech may have a lot on his mind due to issues outside of work.
These personal worries may cause that tech to do something totally out of character such as light a cigarette or cause an electrical spark at the worst possible moment.
Service managers and shop forepersons must coach, coax and cajole techs to focus on the work at hand. "Paying attention," a pal of mine stresses, "pays dividends in any auto repair business."
Some colleagues seem dubious. They roll their eyes in disbelief at accounts of avoidable shop calamities. The fact remains that good workers sometimes blunder — not to mention blunder badly.
Other memorable mishaps
An experienced tech was changing the motor oil and filter on a car. He nonchalantly reinstalled the oil fill cap and started the engine.
Next, the tech began backing the car out of the bay in spite of the engine making the telltale "no-oil" knocking and tapping sounds. Thanks to frantic signals and shouts from co-workers, he shut off the engine fairly quickly.
There was no oil evident on the dipstick but the tech thought he recalled putting oil in the engine. That was a very close call.
In another situation, a shop foreman was making "spot" checks of underhood fluid levels after techs had performed routine maintenance. On one vehicle, the oil level on the dipstick was extremely high — far above the full mark.
Instead of jumping to conclusions, the foreman personally rechecked the job. He drained the fresh oil into a separate drain pan, then measured it. Incredibly, the tech had overfilled the engine by more than two quarts of oil.
Later, the foreman told me the tech defended his actions. But the results beg the question: How closely was he paying attention to the task?
Earlier, I described how two techs screaming at each other led to an avoidable, embarrassing accident. Actually, techs do not have to speak in order to cause seemingly mindless mistakes.
A great example involves a gasoline-related fire and explosion. Here, a tech was removing a fuel tank from a vehicle. He was working hastily; his thoughts seemed to be somewhere other than on the task at hand.
The job may have involved replacing a leaking tank. Or the objective may have been replacing a failed fuel pump or a fuel gauge float assembly inside that tank.
Regardless of that day's objective, the vicinity of that bay reeked of gasoline vapor. The distracted tech may have ramped up the job's risk by failing to drain the tank beforehand. Sometimes hurried techs spill fuel on the floor of the bay.
A conscientious tech would warn co-workers to be ultra-cautious while he carted the old, leaky tank outside the service department and/or blotted up the spilled gasoline in his bay.
On this particular day, the tech shouted no warnings to co-workers. Equally concerning, an inattentive worker in the next bay seemingly overlooked the fuel odor.
This tech attacks a corroded frame bolt with a grinder and eventually showers sparks into the next bay. No surprise here — the sparks ignite the fuel on the floor of that bay.
A variation on this theme is an absent-minded tech who overlooks or ignores the gasoline fumes coming from the next bay. His immediate concern is cleaning the interior of a good customer's vehicle.
This tech rolls the shop's large, industrial-style vacuum cleaner into his bay and sets to work. Soon, the vacuum cleaner belches flames because its motor ingested and ignited fuel vapor.
The "exploding" vacuum cleaner startles the tech so much that he falls backward, cracking his head on the shop floor.
This tech with the bleeding bump on his noggin may have questioned the source of the extraordinary gasoline fumes coming into his work space. But he did not.
Some fuel odor — as opposed to an overwhelming gasoline stench — may be unavoidable as well as manageable, but to me, a focused tech does not generate sparks first and ask questions after an accident occurs.
In conclusion, service managers or shop foreperson may not be able to coach techs around every potential problem or pitfall but they can call crew members to task for seemingly unfocused work and inattentive actions.
Finally, they should use mistakes or accidents as teaching moments for all techs — experienced or inexperienced. Remind techs that focusing on their work makes them good and keeps them good.