Workers in automotive shops encounter a variety of hazards. Physical hazards can include repetitive stress or ergonomic injuries—or injuries sustained due to noise, lifts, cutting tools, or slipping on surfaces with oil or grease. Chemical hazards include paints, fillers, and solvents; chemicals used in spray painting operations; dust from sanding; silica used in sandblasting; and metal fumes from welding and cutting.
The right to know
The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) “right to know” standard requires that employees be notified in detail of the possible dangers of any of the chemicals they use on the job. This standard requires that employers provide:
- Detailed labeling of all chemicals
- Inventory lists with information about chemicals
- Training for employees in the safe use of chemicals
- A written plan that outlines how your business plans to follow the standard
Fortunately, by taking steps to prevent injuries on the job, you’re helping to safeguard your employees—and your business. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs provides general guidance for implementing a health and safety program. These programs help businesses:
- Prevent workplace injuries
- Improve compliance with laws and regulations
- Reduce costs, including significant reductions in workers’ compensation premiums
- Engage workers
- Enhance their social responsibility goals
- Increase productivity and enhance overall business operations
For every dollar spent on a workers’ comp claim, $5 is spent on indirect costs, like lost productivity, hiring and retraining staff, and replacing or repairing damaged equipment.
Workplace safety tips for auto body shop owners
By implementing proper safety techniques, you can help reduce the number of workers’ comp claims made by your employees—and help reduce your overall costs. Be sure that all employees (even part-time help and trainees) are well trained in safety procedures. Be sure to read OSHA’s Standards for Autobody Repair and Refinishing for the specific regulations.
Here are top tips that can help keep your workers safe:
- Have safety equipment to protect employees from the hazards that they’re exposed to on the job. This equipment may include respirators, goggles, and noise reduction devices.
- Tools in your shop should be in good condition and employees should be trained on how to properly use each tool—and any associated dangers. Larger, standardized tools (like car lifts) must be inspected and serviced on a regular basis to remain compliant with OSHA’s standards.
- Power tools should be unplugged while cleaning.
- Tools and parts that are not being used should be stored appropriately.
- The shop floor should be kept uncluttered and all spills should be cleaned up immediately.
- Keep all floors free of grease and debris to prevent falls.
- Steps should be taken to decrease the risk of flammability, such as meeting applicable electrical wiring codes, providing a fire plan, and having a flameproof enclosure for work like spray finishing and using flammable materials.
- Always have enough fire extinguishers available with current inspection tags.
- Provide an eye-washing station with running water and a stocked first-aid kit on the wall.
- All employees should wear safety glasses when performing tasks like grinding. Dust masks should be worn when working on brakes to prevent asbestos from being inhaled into the lungs.
- The entire shop should be designated as a non-smoking area.
- If a technician needs to open a fuel system on a vehicle, he or she must warn other employees to prevent accidental ignition. Technicians also must take care when replacing fuel pumps.
- Items or tools that create sparks should not be used while gas fumes are present.
- Employees should never lift a motor or transmission with a jack without supporting it with a block of wood or a similar item.
- Prevent customers from coming into the shop area unless absolutely necessary.
- Conduct safety meetings as necessary to keep all the employees up-to-speed on current safety strategies.
- Adequately train workers on the health and safety issues applicable in their workplaces.
- Provide a written hazard communication program to employees that includes a list of all the hazardous materials at the worksite and an explanation of how your business will comply with each one’s OSHA’s standards.
- Train workers and provide literature in a language that workers will understand.
- If required, only allow workers who are qualified or certified complete certain tasks.
- Keep a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) related to each of the chemicals used by your company.
- Allow workers enough time to work safely.
- Rotate employees’ tasks, especially those that require using the same motion over and over.
- Consider using mechanical equipment to do repetitive employee tasks.
- Consider providing slip-resistant footwear to employees, since it can reduce as much as 75 percent of work-related slips and falls.
- Provide training in safe lifting methods.
- Keep records of workplace injuries.
- Provide medical exams when required by OSHA regulations and provide workers access to medical and exposure records.
Perhaps most importantly, require that all employee injuries—no matter how small—are reported immediately.
How to prepare for unexpected accidents
While you can’t plan for every type of emergency, every workplace should at least have a plan for handling injuries. The plan should explicitly detail how workers should report injuries and how to get help promptly by:
- Explaining how employees should contact medical personnel if needed
- Including the location of first-aid kits, gloves, and other protective equipment available for staff (lacerations and puncture wounds should be immediately treated and disinfected to prevent infection)
- Ensuring workers know how to report an incident where there is exposure to blood
How to incentivize safety in your auto shop
Regardless of your best efforts, accidents can happen anyway. Remind employees why safety training is important—and provide continual reminders and retraining.
To help encourage your employees to make safety a priority at work, consider offering prizes or awards for those who follow the safety program or hit time milestones while remaining injury-free. Prizes like lottery scratch-offs, coffee gift cards, or 30 extra minutes of paid-time-off can help motivate your workers.
Thanks for reading! Please note that this content is intended for educational purposes only. As best practices change regularly, you should refer to your trusted advisor for specific counsel. If you’re a small business owner, learn more about workplace safety or check your workers’ comp rate in 3 minutes.