Tips N Chat Throwback #18: It Can Be a Van or a Coffin

This week’s featured Tips N Chat Throwback post is from an Ed Sez column written by Ed York and published in the July-August 1981 issue of Tips N Chat. Remember to check back every Thursday for a new throwback post!

For some unexplained reason, owners of cleaning firms are reluctant to report or talk about accidents that happen to them. It may be the fear of liability, but I suspect it is the fear of being talked about by their peers. This is most unfortunate as nothing should stand in the way of cleaning up any problems that lead to unsafe conditions.

I can never forget the story told by a Colorado SCT member about how he entered the business. He inherited it from his father, who in trying to clean a customer’s oily rug, used a flammable solvent in his shampooer. Standing in the middle, he turned on his wet-dry to finish it off. Our member’s mother tells about hearing a loud noise and then seeing her husband running off the burning carpet – a human torch. How horrible.

But is it any worse than a few years ago when I sold 24 “sniffers” to carpet cleaners who used propane? When installed, it would set off a buzzer if the propane developed a leak in the lines or was left open. The problem was that “carbon monoxide” also set it off. SEVENTEEN of the buyers demanded their money back because their’s didn’t work properly. It kept buzzing after every job for at least 30 minutes, even if they didn’t use the propane. There was no way they would accept the fact that it was dangerous for their employees to ride in the van with this amount of “carbon monoxide”. Recently during the Cal/OSHA test, we could only find one van that didn’t have a lethal amount of carbon monoxide present after the unit had run five minutes. This cleaner placed a blower behind the driver which cleared the collected bad air.

This occurred several months ago and I have yet to hear of one person adding this safety feature to their van. It does not require an expensive blower. Pep Boys has a caged fan with brackets for sale at $18.75, that could be hung from the roof of the van, and blow the fumes out the open door while the equipment is working. It is hard to believe a firm will pay from $15,000 to $20,000 for carbon monoxide-producing equipment, and not an additional $18.75 to protect their operators, or themselves. Forgetting the physical liability and only considering the possible financial liability is enough to scare me into action. 

Now I hear by the grapevine of another truck explosion. I have to consider it as non-confirmed because the principal won’t answer my calls, and others say they would rather not be quoted. According to hear-say, this cleaner had a propane powered truck mount unit in the back of a fiberglass body that replaced the pickup bed. Rather than have the propane tank on the outside, it was attached to the inside wall. Evidently, the bottle came loose and fell over. This ruptured the copper line, which allowed the fumes to reach the water heater’s pilot light. One source says that flames went 80 feet into the air. Evidently, the cab of the pickup saved the operator from being a fatality, but what if it had been in a van? Not only are there lots of carpet cleaners driving around with a liquid petroleum tank inside their van, but many of them leave the manufacturer or installer’s place of business with this temporary connection that becomes permanent.

Let me ask you carpet cleaners this question. “Why do you think safety is for the other guy? Wives, please tell me why your husbands insist upon taking chances? Children, why does your daddy tell you it’s not safe to play with matches or loaded guns? I don’t care what state you live in, there are ample places where you can have your van checked FREE of charge without worrying about getting a fine. If you know it’s safe, then why be scared to have it checked?

If you own the company, then it’s up to you. It’s your choice whether you want to work in a van or a coffin.

~ Ed York (1981)

Below is the original article. 

This week’s featured Tips N Chat Throwback post is from an Ed Sez column written by Ed York and published in the July-August 1981 issue of Tips N Chat. Remember to check back every Thursday for a new throwback post! For some unexplained reason, owners of cleaning firms are reluctant to report or talk about […]