By standards here in the Carolinas, it doesn’t feel particularly hot outside at this late-May, mid-morning auction sale.
But still, the glass-door refrigerator next to the auction block at Manheim Darlington has a few handfuls of water bottles, free for the taking.
The auction offers free water and utilizes mist-spraying swamp coolers in the lanes, says general manager Danny Brawn.
It’s a safety measure to combat heat, which in these parts can be as sticky as it is stifling.
Attached to doors leading into the auction lanes are yellow caution signs with messages like “Dealers Only” and “Please watch for moving vehicles.”
Other signs at the auction offer tips for dealing with heat and emergency numbers for injuries. One reiterates the need to watch for moving cars and reminds people to keep their feet outside of the lane.
Signs at Manheim Darlington.
Asked if there was one specific area of which folks at Manheim Darlington needed to be particularly mindful, Brawn said: “All the moving pieces.”
This beehive of moving pieces buzzing about an auction on sale day — including car after car pumping through the lanes, with dealers standing alongside and crossing through those same lanes — amplify the need for vigilant safety mindfulness.
That’s a big part of why the National Auto Auction Association announced this spring that it is providing its member auctions with free courses on Auction Safety Certification and Lane Safety Training, which incorporates KAR Auction Services’ “Safe T. Sam” program.
NAAA also hosted a Safety Summit in Dallas this spring, where Manheim, ADESA and independent auctions were represented well, said NAAA chief executive officer Frank Hackett.
This, Hackett said, shows that “it’s an industrywide effort.”
And the efforts to push safety are perhaps most visible, though not limited to, sale day.
For Part I of this feature on auction safety, we spoke with the management of Manheim Darlington and Missouri Auto Auction to get the boots-on-the-ground, day-to-day perspective of ensuring safety at an auction.
Part II of this feature has an industry-level focus, with insight on NAAA’s efforts from Hackett and the perspective of David Vignes, vice president of enterprise optimization at KAR Auction Services, who spearheaded the Safe T. Sam program.
Every Friday morning before Missouri Auto Auction’s weekly sale in Columbia, Mo., there is an operations meeting that typically includes safety reminders.
When Auto Remarketing spoke with the auction’s management in early June, one of the reminders the week prior was about the heat.
It had been hotter than normal, so they reminded the operations staff about the water bottles available and staying hydrated, co-owner and director of human resources Kathleen Brown told Auto Remarketing in a phone interview along with her husband, co-owner and general manager Kevin Brown.
In the winter, those tips would change to things like how to avoid slipping on the ice.
Similarly, Manheim Darlington has a driver meeting at 8 a.m. every Thursday before its sale. If you’re not there, you don’t drive.
Missouri’s Kevin Brown, who is also president of the ServNet auction group, said sale day in the lanes can be the most at-risk safety element of an auction, simply because of the sheer numbers of people and vehicles.
“It’s not necessarily always the driver that’s distracted; it’s the actual dealer that gets distracted, especially with the technology that we have today,” he said. “Not all dealers are looking at the cars anymore; they’re looking at their technology, their cell phones and things like that. So it’s actually even more critical now, because the dealers’ heads aren’t up anymore.”
Instead, they might be scanning and reading vehicle history reports, vehicle valuations and so forth.
To get the safety message out to everyone, Kevin Brown addresses it during the opening announcements, emphasizing that dealers need to pay attention to their own actions as well as those of the drivers.
For example, if a driver appears ill, report it to the auction staff. Or if a dealer is not paying attention, “we address it,” he said.
It’s one thing to train your own employees and hold them accountable; it’s a completely different challenge to make sure non-employees at the auction on sale day are following the same protocols.
While there may be no way to completely ensure that those folks are following safety procedures, Brawn has employees out in the lanes, and lane leaders communicating with the drivers.
At Darlington, Brawn himself walks through the lanes, observing to make sure people are taking safety precautions. For instance, Brawn said if he sees a dealer in the lane and there’s a car approaching, Brawn will ask him to move.
Going back to the heat that can often be an issue this time of year, Missouri Auto Auction has the auctioneer, ringman and its two clerks on the block to be watchful as well. If they see something unusual with a driver, they are expected to contact management.
“Because they see more than anybody,” Kevin Brown said.
“And we don’t reprimand people for taking a break. If they need to, it’s encouraged, especially for heat-related stuff,” Kathleen Brown said.
The other 6 days
Being cognizant is important to auction safety — whether it’s sale day or not.
Even on things as seemingly insignificant as a pothole.
“I tell all of my team members that if you see a pothole, I need to know about it right away,” said Brawn. “We’ll go out and we’ll get QUIKRETE and we’ll fill it today.
“They have the authority to make those decisions and get things fixed, that they see that are out of place, immediately,” Brawn said.
And outside of the auction lanes, in the various shops at Manheim Darlington (recon, body, etc.), they use a “5S” philosophy: sort, set, sweep, standardize, sustain. That is meant to ensure cleanliness and organization to avoid trips and falls.
These shops have a weekly checklist they have to take care of, and they’re graded by Manheim’s safety department through a twice-a-year-audit.
‘Just try to keep it in their head’
Often, safety starts at hiring.
When an employee is hired at Missouri Auto Auction, one of the first things they go through is a safety orientation, which Kathleen Brown runs.
They watch the Smith System’s “Cycle of Safety” video on sale-day driving safety, whether they’re a driver or not.
The orientation goes through a driver safety manual, developed by the auction’s safety committee, for a driver’s functions during the week, providing a detailed and comprehensive guide covering everything from breaking down on the highway to being pulled over.
Also discussed during orientation is the auction’s safety committee, which includes representatives from every department
“And obviously, the reason we do that is so that we get feedback from every area and every department of our organization,” Kathleen Brown said.
The safety committee meets quarterly, talking about safety needs, updating the safety manual and monitoring any changes in OSHA regulations. Everyone on the committee is first-aid and CPR certified.
Training on responses to things like fire, tornado and hazard training is done up front, as well.
“Safety is our No.1 topic here at Missouri Auto Auction,” said Kevin Brown. “We reiterate to all of our employees: safety, safety, safety, and just try to keep it in their head.
“And the other thing is, we call auto auctions ‘organized chaos,’” he said. “But when you hire somebody, they don’t understand organized chaos. So, we want to make sure that when they’re hired and (at) the first sale, your head could start spinning, so we put them with somebody else to work with them for the first day, just to get them comfortable.”
And during that first sale, Kathleen Brown adds, the new employees ride along with an experienced driver to show them what they should be looking for, safety-wise. Once the new employee is comfortable, they swap places in the car.
The auction also emphasizes that no employee should drive a vehicle with which they feel uncomfortable, Kathleen said.
At Manheim Darlington and any Manheim auction, all employees have to go through the Smith System driver training each year, Brawn said.
“It’s for every employee, because you never know when you have to get into a car and move it, for any reason or another,” Brawn said. “Even title clerks, who never drive cars, if we need them to drive cars for any reason, they’ll know how to — and (know) that they have to buckle their seatbelt, and when they come into the lane, they have to put the car in park. They have to look left and right before moving … items like that, that they won’t think about otherwise if we don’t put them through the training.”
Disaster & emergency preparedness
When the devastating flooding hit South Carolina in fall 2015, water filled the back part of the lot at Manheim Darlington, Brawn said.
But the auction was able to get the cars moved off that back part of the property and the employees out of harm’s way.
That underscores the importance of Manheim Darlington’s safety training, conducting things like fire drills once a quarter and emergency evacuation practice.
Last year, part of the auction’s mechanic shop roof blew off, Brawn said. But because of their training, employees knew exactly how to respond, he said.
“Those are the reasons why,” Brawn said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
Including accidents and injuries.
Should an accident happen, Brawn said that at Manheim Darlington, employees are required to notify a manager (if not a manager themselves). Human resources and security are brought to the scene immediately for documentation purposes.
Brawn contacts his supervisor, who contacts Manheim’s safety department to notify them of what happened.
“But the most important thing at that point is making sure that whoever is hurt is OK and doing anything that we can to make them as comfortable as they can be in the current situation. But we call 911 if it’s a situation that requires it … we have a good relationship with the sheriff and the fire chief, and we’ll call all those if necessary,” he said.
Kevin Brown, a former law enforcement officer himself, said Missouri Auto Auction also has a good relationship with the local sheriff’s department and encourages them to be a part of the auction. In fact, the department conducted its K-9 training at the auction.
“We feel that the more that they’re here,” he said, “the better we are.”