OSHA Preparation 101
Whether body shop owners make an error of omission, or an error of commission, the consequences can be significant.
Not only could poor processes eventually cost collision repair facilities customers, they could also cost them sizeable fines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. These days, if a shop has unsafe working conditions, it can result in a four-figure fine in a hurry. Plus, providing employees with a safe working environment isn’t just the right thing to do, many in the industry would agree that it can help with employee retention.
The severity of an OSHA fine, though, “depends on whether or not it was identified as being known and willfully ignored, or if it was just part of a program that was not completely effective,” says Wade Scheel, the director of governmental affairs at Stericycle Environmental Solutions, an international company that helps various businesses dispose of hazardous waste.
“If it reaches the kind of level where an employee was injured substantially,” Scheel adds, “then that could lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties.”
OSHA increased its fines across the board in 2016, and the organization is watching body shops as close as ever these days, with inspections that search facilities for myriad safety concerns, such as splices in extension cords, or overexposure to isocyanates found in paints or silica dust.
And OSHA fines—which, more often than not, run from $1,500 to $4,000 these days, depending on the size of the shop's staff—can be levied at any time. An OSHA inspector may make an unannounced visit, or, a recently fired shop employee may log a complaint with state officials, for instance.
But, while keeping up-to-date with OSHA regulations may seem daunting, it can be done. In that spirit, FenderBender spoke with three experts with nearly 60 years of combined experience in studying OSHA regulations, seeking their advice for body shop owners.
Invest in training.
Whether it be through health and safety consultants, or industry organizations like I-CAR, investing in training can help shops avoid OSHA violations like those involving hazard communication, respirators, or poor labeling of chemical containers.
And, according to Joe Kenny, the president of Safety Regulations Strategies, such training typically only costs shops $2,000 per year. And that’s probably a worthwhile investment, considering OSHA’s employee right-to-know stipulations require shop owners to thoroughly explain to their staffs all potential workplace hazards that they might be exposed to.
Have safety meetings.
Colette Bruce, the owner of Team Safety LLC, suggests shop owners hold monthly safety meetings for their staff. The meetings can make learning about safety regulations as tolerable as possible for body shop staffs, serving as a time in which lunch can be served, and instructional videos can be shown.
“It’s good team-building time, and that’s when they find out that maybe there’s equipment that’s damaged, because they talk about it,” Bruce says of safety meetings, which are required in some states.
“It costs so much when an employee is injured and out of work; I call them ‘lost production days,’ because that employer, via their insurance, is still paying that employee, and they’re not getting production out of them. So, just being prepared is really going to reduce that stress if OSHA walks in the door.”
Sign up for alerts.
Via OSHA’s website, osha.gov, shop owners can sign up to be notified when there’s a new, or altered, workplace safety regulation.
Unfortunately, considering the somewhat fluid nature of OSHA regulations, shop owners might receive frequent notifications along those lines.
“It’s a big world out there for the regulations,” Stericycle’s Scheel says. “So, there might be quite a few alerts coming through. But that’s the best way to stay alert to [OSHA regulation] changes.”
Attend industry meetings.
Industry organizations like 20 Groups usually offer periodic presentations from health and safety inspectors. And, state repair groups like, for example, the Automotive Body and Painting Association of Hawaii, consistently keep members abreast of any changes in safety regulations, through newsletters, Kenny notes.
“If OSHA goes into a 15- to 30-person business, they’re going to be like, ‘This is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong, and it’s going to cost you $30,000 in fines,’” Kenny says, “And you’d better get that fixed, because they’re going to be back in 30 days. So, if you’re someone who’s active in your [industry] associations, you’re going to hear about a change in regulations.”
Have organized record-keeping.
Industry experts tend to agree that it’s imperative for shop owners to maintain detailed OSHA logs, recording any injuries that occur in their shops. It’s equally valuable to keep track of when your shop took measures to train employees on workplace safety, test facility air quality, or secured personal protective equipment (PPEs) required for certain work tasks.
“That’s going to be one of the first things that OSHA asks for, is [a shop’s] OSHA log,” Scheel says.
Experts also agree that’s unwise for owners to delegate their OSHA-related record-keeping; after all, OSHA inspectors typically ask to speak with shop owners, plus, the employee turnover that most body shops experience would make it risky to entrust most employees with recording all OSHA-log information.
Walk your shop floor.
Getting in the habit of scanning a shop floor for potential safety violations can save an owner from getting saddled with a hefty fine.
Bruce suggests having shop owners “walk through their shop weekly, and check for electrical cords. In terms of prevention, that’s huge.”
It also helps to get employee engagement in safety processes, and have them consistently check their work areas for safety concerns like damaged extension cords.
While some states offer free OSHA consultations, Scheel has become convinced that shop owners would be well advised to bring in a health and safety consultant once or twice per year. After all, OSHA regulations are wide-ranging and change periodically, and body shop managers usually have too much on their docket to adequately stay abreast of changes in regulations.
Health and safety consultants, which are prevalent in most metropolitan areas, can help shop owners “assess where their safety needs are going to be, and what they would need to do to comply. Because it’s going to be really challenging, for the average body shop owner, to figure this out without some help.”