Your store is exposed to potential disasters many times in the course of a normal business day. Highly flammable materials are constantly flowing through your service department, body shop or parts department on a routine basis. Whether it is gasoline-filled tanks, spray paint or other solvents in use daily, they are all a source of hazard and can ignite very easily.

Fire often causes extensive damage to service facilities because employees were not trained properly in handling these hazmats.

An incident occurred recently as a result of a minor leak from a tank of a vehicle in the service department of a local dealership. The gasoline produced fumes that ignited when the maintenance staff tried to vacuum the absorbent materials that were applied to the fuel leak to keep it contained.

OSHA regulations contain many rules specifically designed to insure the safety of people working in a dealership. Unfortunately, these rules do not address potential financial loss due to the accidental destruction of assets.

Here are a few questions that should be addressed at a minimal cost that will avoid potential financial loss:

  • Do you have a written disaster plan?

  • Would your staff know what to do in case of fire, flood, gas leak, accidental spread of toxic fumes or other such incidents?

If a fire destroys a part of your store:

  • Do you have enough insurance coverage?

  • Do you have the right coverage including business interruption?

  • Can you prove the value and list of assets destroyed in case of fire?

  • Did you document your existing assets through video taping the dealership contents at least annually?

  • Do you take advantage of your local fire department's expertise by having them survey your facilities, conduct fire drills and offer suggestions?

  • Do you have adequate smoke and heat detectors and sprinkler systems in your facilities?

  • Do you backup your computer systems data and store the backup disc off site?

With the rise of insurance premiums many dealers are increasing the deductible and reducing coverage as well as taking additional safety measures to reduce the incidence of accidents in their facilities.

Over the past five years, many auto dealers formed competitive insurance entities or trusts as an alternative to commercial coverage. These entities are careful in picking group members, and have successfully reduced insurance costs.

Jacob J. Cohen is a managing director with American Express Tax and Business Service;, 800-999-9722.