How to be Prepared for an OSHA Inspection

Aug. 1, 2011
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration could show up at your shop anytime. Those surprise visits could be tough on your pocketbook if you don’t know the rules.

Steven DaPolito took his first job as a body shop manager at a now defunct dealership shop in the mid ’90s. Just six months into the job, he was introduced to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in a most unpleasant way. His Buffalo, N.Y., shop was one of roughly 25 in DaPolito’s local area chosen for random spot-checks by OSHA.

An OSHA representative showed up unannounced. The inspector asked to see the shop’s safety training records, personal protective equipment assessments and material safety data sheets (MSDS). DaPolito was stumped. Still so new to the job, he says he didn’t even know what OSHA was at the time, let alone the things they were asking to see.

Needless to say, the shop didn’t have any of the materials requested. From there, things got worse: The inspector looked through the entire shop, interviewed employees and measured the shop’s air quality. “OSHA found 11 violations in all, seven of which were considered serious,” DaPolito says.

The shop’s citations—no labels on material containers, no ground wires on the shop’s holding and transfer containers in the mixing area, broken ground-prongs on extension cords, no explosion-proof cabinets for paint storage, no protective clothing for welders, not enough distance between the paint storage area and the welding area—earned the shop roughly $15,000 in fines.

The fine was dropped to $5,500 after abatement, but that involved updating the spray booth and other significant expenses. “It was painful,” DaPolito says.

The majority of OSHA citations occur because shop operators aren’t aware of every rule, says Colette Bruce, owner of Team Safety, a consulting company that works with the collision industry on OSHA and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) compliance issues. And there are literally thousands of rules.

But ignorance is no excuse when it comes to the law, and OSHA inspections are no exception. Inspectors aren’t afraid to dole out citations, and penalties can reach $5,000 apiece. With a little know-how, you can prevent the most common violations, avoid hefty fines, and create a safer workplace.

The Crackdown

The number of OSHA body shop inspections has increased since 2006, says Bruce. The collision industry was targeted because of employee health concerns.

OSHA studies revealed that isocyanates—which are present in various materials used in shops—are seriously dangerous to employee health, Bruce says. “Exposure to those chemicals causes occupational asthma.”

So OSHA launched local emphasis programs across the country to investigate body shop air quality. They want to make sure repair shops are complying with respiratory requirements, and that shops are equipped with the proper safety equipment, Bruce says.

The Chronic Problems

OSHA inspectors almost always find a problem when they visit body shops, says Joseph Kenny, president of Safety Regulation Strategies Inc., another consulting company that assists shops with OSHA compliance.

It’s nearly impossible to operate a repair shop that’s 100 percent compliant, but understanding these most common shop violations is a tremendous help. Carol Keyes, president and safety consultant at Complete Health Environmental and Safety Services Inc. (CHESS), recommends checking your shop for the following:

• Respiratory protection. Employers must have a respiratory protection program. Complete programs include: a written training program, respirator evaluations, respirator cartridge change-out schedule, annual respirator training and fit tests, and employee medical evaluations.

• Hazard communication. Employees have to be trained and informed about the hazards associated with their job. This training must be done before employees start work. Existing employees must be retrained annually.

“If you can pull [safety documentation] out right away, it shows that your shop has its ducks in a row, and OSHA may not inspect your facility as heavily.”
—Joseph Kenny, president, Safety Regulation Strategies, Inc.

Shops need to provide employees with an MSDS for every chemical they work with. That information highlights necessary personal protective equipment, first aid processes and what to do in case of emergencies. OSHA inspectors will ask employees if they know where those materials are located in the shop, and if they understand how to read them.

You can learn how to develop a hazard communication training program on the Collision Auto Repair Safety Study (CARSS) website:

• Spray finishing using flammable and combustible materials. Shops cannot spray paint outside of a paint booth. All paint booths need to be equipped with explosion-proof wiring, explosion-proof lighting and proper ventilation.

• Wiring methods, components, and equipment. Make sure your electrical cords are in good condition and extension cords have all their grounding prongs. Avoid frayed or incomplete wiring and be sure all the components are in place on your electrical panels.

• Portable fire extinguishers. Shops need ABC type fire extinguishers, Keyes says. Make sure they’re up-to-date and have had an annual inspection. Employees shouldn’t have to travel more than 50 feet to access a fire extinguisher. Place extinguishers throughout your shop accordingly.

• Personal protective equipment. Employees must be trained on what protective equipment to use, and when to use it. Make sure your employees are wearing safety glasses and the right type of gloves when necessary. Even if you have the equipment in the shop, you can be cited if employees aren’t using it properly.

• Storage of flammable and combustible materials. Shops cannot have more than 60 gallons of combustible materials stored outside of the mixing room, unless they’re in a flammables cabinet. All containers must have a lid.

• Abrasive wheel machinery. Grinding wheels must be guarded on the sides and top. They must have a tongue guard and a work rest.
“Grinding wheels wear down as they’re used, and shops often forget to adjust the guards appropriately,” Keyes says.

These considerations certainly don’t include everything that OSHA inspectors will assess in your shop, Keyes cautions. She recommends reviewing the complete list of regulations at You’ll also find e-tools that can help you out, like training programs that discuss different hazards. You can access those e-tools at:

The Inspection

Nobody wants to deal with an OSHA visit, but the right preparation can make the experience bearable. Start the inspection off right by having easy access to a few items the OSHA inspector will ask for first: safety and equipment training records, proof of hazard communication and material safety data sheets.

“If you can pull those things out right away, it shows that your shop has its ducks in a row, and OSHA may not inspect your facility as heavily,” Kenny says.

There are a few other things you can do to get on the inspector’s good side—and potentially reduce the violations they penalize you for:

• Let the inspector in. Employers have the right to deny OSHA representatives access to the facility, Keyes says. But they will assume it’s because you’re hiding something. They’ll obtain a subpoena to enter—which you aren’t able to refuse—and will likely spend more time in your shop.

• Fix problems immediately. Thank the inspector for bringing certain issues to your attention. Fix problems on the spot if possible, Kenny says.

If a violation is not practical to fix immediately, remove it as a hazard to your employees, Kenny says. For example, cut the plug off an unsafe bench grinder to make it unusable.

“That simple action sends a message to the inspector that your employees’ safety is a high priority,” Kenny says. “You might be able to avoid a citation if you immediately correct the issue.”

• Eliminate the need for a follow-up inspection. After your shop is inspected, you have roughly 15 to 45 days to fix the problems. Send documentation to the OSHA inspector to prove that you did, Kenny says, including photos and receipts related to shop upgrades.

“If you thoroughly document that you addressed all of the violations and concerns, you make a follow-up visit unnecessary,” Kenny says.

• Reduce your fines. Keyes says shops can qualify for a 20 to 90 percent penalty reduction for three reasons: If you have fewer than 25 employees, if you’ve shown good faith to be in compliance, and if you haven’t been cited for the same violation within the last five years.

Cultivate Compliance

Complying with OSHA regulations can seem overwhelming. You may want to consider implementing a few processes in your shop to help:

• Develop an internal shop inspection system. Identify everything in your facility that poses a possible hazard to your employees. If you can’t eliminate the hazard, implement a control measure to protect employees from it, Bruce says.

DaPolito began inspecting his facility monthly after that devastating visit from OSHA. He reviewed everything that had resulted in a citation, including the shop’s fire extinguishers, container labels and ground wires. He added the task to his computer calendar so he was automatically reminded to complete the checklist every month. (Visit for tips on creating a self-inspection checklist.)

• Add training to your new employee human resources package. Even if you’ve done all necessary annual safety training, you need a process in place to train new employees. A new hire can’t legally start working for you until they’ve completed safety training.

• Implement a standard operating procedure for new products. Shops have to conduct training whenever something changes in the facility, Bruce says.

For example, if you’ve already conducted your annual hazard communication training and you bring something new into the shop, you need a process in place to update your employees about the safety features and considerations. They can’t start using the new item until they’ve been trained on it.

• Lids and labels. Simply put, put lids and labels on everything, Bruce says. Imagine bringing someone into your shop who is not familiar with the collision repair industry. That person should be able to identify what’s inside every container in your shop. If they can’t, you’re not labeling correctly.

Consult an Expert

Complying with every OSHA regulation may seem like an insurmountable task, Kenny says. A workplace safety consultant can review your facility, work practices and existing programs. OSHA can even provide one.

Contact the agency and request a consultant to do a free assessment of your facility. The consultant will point out problems without issuing any citations at that time. Visit the OSHA website at to get started.

Alternatively, you can hire a private company, such as:

• Complete Health Environmental and Safety Services Inc.:

• Team Safety:

• Safety Regulation Strategies Inc.:

Bruce says a safety consultant could run you about $1,000. Consultants typically provide facility assessments, safety manuals, training DVDs and self-inspection checklists.

“If you don’t fully understand the regulations, it’s worth your money to hire someone,” Bruce says. “You might spend $1,000 on a compliance program, but that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the fines you could experience if you don’t do anything.”

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