A Leader In Safety

April 1, 2012
Amid a rash of OSHA inspections, Kurt Danielson turned the tables by inviting inspectors to his business. In the process he boosted morale and shop productivity, and put his shop in the industry’s top tier for safety.

Just hearing the name OSHA can make a shop owner shudder—and for good reason. Sometimes even the most organized shops end up with hefty fines after random inspections.

Following a flurry of area OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Organization) visits in 2006, Kurt Danielson, manager at Davis-Moore Auto Body Shop in Wichita, Kan., chose not to wait for an inspector to show up at his door. He took a class through the state health department, and decided to invite state inspectors to his shop to ensure its health and safety levels. That way, if OSHA called, he could say state inspectors were already checking the shop out. And he knew any fixes up front would cost less than violations.

In 2008—after a half-dozen visits from state health inspectors and much effort by Danielson and his staff to show off the shop’s excellent safety levels—Davis-Moore Auto Body was awarded the Certificate of Achievement through OSHA’s Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP). Few businesses in Kansas have earned the recognition.

The state health department recommended that the shop participate in the prestigious, and free, program. Danielson agreed it was a good idea. Getting the certification meant the dealership shop was exempt from OSHA inspections for two years, potentially saving thousands of dollars in fines. Danielson says he wasn’t worried anyway, but the measures saved money, and gave him and his employees a big sense of relief and accomplishment.

Jumping Hurdles

To qualify for the program, Davis-Moore had to meet a stringent list of criteria. For example, it had to maintain a lost-workday injury and illness rate, as well as total recordable case rate, below the national average for the collision repair industry. It also had to have what OSHA deems a comprehensive safety and health management program, among other requirements.

When state health department officials came to the shop, the deal was that if major violations—such as dumping toxic waste out the back door—were found, the shop could be fined, but everything else they got a chance to fix without getting nicked.

Officials examined everything. They made sure icy walkways were clear and salted, and ensured the mezzanine above the office was clutter-free to avoid trip risks.

Danielson even hosted a fire drill, the kind that some might remember from grade school. He had a company in town make maps showing the building and locations of fire extinguishers and exits.

Danielson spent a couple of hundred dollars on other changes: He needed to buy a chain and caution tape for an opening near his frame machine that could be a hazard if someone fell. He learned that eye wash stations needed to be cleaned once per week; respirators needed to be stored in a plastic, air-tight container; and that his staff needed to wear dust masks while sanding, ear protection when chiseling a fender off, and leather gloves when welding or grinding.

The most time-consuming aspect of this process was the paperwork, Danielson says. He hosts ongoing shop inspections at the dealership, including monthly department inspections. Danielson and his staff check off seven pages of requirements during each shop inspection. They make sure fire extinguishers are in place, aisles are clear of clutter and three feet wide, floors are free of oil grease, liquids, and sharp objects, electrical cords are not frayed, warning signs and cones are available for wet floors, and evacuation routes are posted.

“Now that we’ve been doing it for quite a few years, it might take a guy 20 minutes, 30 minutes, if that,” Danielson says. “You work here, so that you know and can see the aisles are all clear. It doesn’t take very long.”

Worth the Work

Though the shop saved costs on insurance premiums, kept OSHA away, and shined the shop’s reputation, its program participation meant more than that.

“As far as the body shop was concerned, I did it for my guys. If we can make it a cleaner, safer work environment, in my view, the happier the employees will be,” he says.

Craig Cross, Danielson’s boss and service director at Davis-Moore, echoed Danielson.

“It sends a huge message to the employees that we’re serious about safety,” he says.

Managers and staff met regularly as this was happening to get input from employees. “You can’t force it down their throats,” Danielson says. “They’ve got to want to do it.”

As they worked together to meet the certification requirements, staff came together in a new way. For example, if one technician was pulling a frame and needed help, he was a lot more likely to turn to a coworker than he would have been previously. And staff came together to clean up clutter.

Those good habits continued after the two-year inspection exemption expired. During sanding, for example, there might have been 30 pieces of sandpaper on the floor prior to going through the OSHA process. Now there is a couple at most, with the rest going straight to the trash as soon as possible.

“Even to this day, you walk out into the shop … you don’t have the junk, the clutter. Everybody keeps stuff picked up, cleaned up,” he says.

Employees are also more productive now because everything is in order and no one has to guess where the welder sits, for example. The changes led to a contagious morale boost that spread beyond the body shop.

“As a dealership goes, they kind of let me do this. And once they saw how everything worked and what it did for morale, they decided, ‘Well why don’t we do this with some of our other departments throughout the dealership?’ Every single one of the service departments went through the program and earned SHARP certification,” he says.

That, Danielson says, changed the culture of the entire business for good.

Interested in taking your shop through OSHA’s Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program? Find everything you need to know at 1.usa.gov/OSHASHARP.

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