Effects of the Collision Repair Campaign

June 1, 2009
The Collision Repair Campaign encourages a sooner-than-later approach to health safety. Potential side effects? Reduced materials costs and increased productivity.

Paul Holman still remembers the image of a co-worker emerging from a paint booth 20 years ago: Eyes watering and nose dripping, the painter was unknowingly becoming sensitized to the isocyanates common in automotive refinishing. “Back then, we had no clue [about the asthma and respiratory problems that can result],” says Holman, now owner of Holman’s Body and Fender in Seattle, Wash.

Two decades later, Holman is focused on ensuring that his staff is adequately protected against harmful substances present in auto body shops. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is, too. The EPA issued the Auto Body Rule to establish National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP). The purpose of the regulation is to limit the level of toxic emissions present in auto body shops as well as to ensure that shop equipment and daily practices help reduce these harmful emissions. Much of the Auto Body Rule focuses on increasing transfer efficiency and limiting overspray, which reduces worker exposure to harmful substances. For instance, shops will be required to use high volume/low pressure (HVLP) guns to ensure painter safety.

The Auto Body Rule goes into effect in January 2011, but Holman wants to comply early for reasons both altruistic and pragmatic. He wants to safeguard the health and safety of his employees sooner rather than later, and he’s eager for the cost savings associated with using less-hazardous repair materials like waterborne paint.

“[Shops can] save money by reducing their paint overspray and use of toxics.”—Holly Wilson, Collision Repair Campaign Project Coordinator


To help shops improve employee health, reduce auto body emissions and reduce costs, the EPA launched a two-year effort known as the Collision Repair Campaign. The Campaign works with local government agencies to put on one-day workshops that address these points for shop owners. Holman attended one such workshop last September. He says the event prepared him to comply with the Auto Body Rule while deepening his knowledge of employee health safety issues. “Everyone has the right to work in a safe environment,” says Holman, whose shop has nine employees and does $1.1 million in annual sales.

The Campaign workshops focus on helping shops learn more about safer spray routines and filter maintenance, says Ashely Zanolli, an environmental engineer for the EPA. Holman came away from the workshop with several cost-saving ideas. He learned about safer and more efficient spray techniques. He was informed about the ideal amount of waterborne paint needed to cover a panel while decreasing VOC emissions. And he learned that, with waterborne paints, he could use disposable paint liners in his paint mixing cup for his gravity feed HVLP spray guns. “[That] cuts down your hazardous waste by more than half,” he says, explaining that Washington state regulations allow dried waterborne paint to be tossed in a conventional trash bin.

Most important for Holman, the Campaign workshop inspired him to finally make the move to waterborne—a decision he’d been considering for some time. “It made me realize that waterborne is going to be mandated in a couple of years,” he reasoned, so why wait?

The workshop Holman attended was one of two hosted by Lake Washington Technical College, and those workshops resulted in potential savings of over $140,000 for the 30 participating shops that implemented best practices, based on workshop evaluations. According to the EPA, these results correlate to potential emissions reductions of at least 16,000 pounds per year of volatile organic compounds and particulate matter.


The Collision Repair Campaign, which launched in August 2007, aims to protect workers by reducing emissions, but it also benefits shop owners by educating them about the potential cost savings associated with improving the health conditions in their business. “[Shops can] save money by reducing their paint overspray and use of toxics,” points out Holly Wilson, who coordinates the project for the EPA.

The national EPA Campaign will begin to phase out during summer 2010. The agency will release_notes a DVD this summer to help explain the Auto Body Rule and its requirements as well as to inform shops about the tools and training available for compliance. It will be available to view on the Campaign’s Web site (epa.gov/collisionrepair).

Each of the EPA’s 10 regional offices involved in the Campaign work with local community, industry and small business partners to limit exposure of air toxics from auto body shops. As the national Campaign phases out next year, the regional offices will continue their outreach effort.

The Campaign’s Web site includes contact information for regional Campaign contacts so shops can learn more about the educational and marketing opportunities available in their local area. The Web site also includes a brochure detailing the Auto Body Rule, an emission reduction calculator and a best practices list compiled from real-life shop experiences. “Our goal is to [help bring shop owners] into compliance and have them ready come January 2011,” Wilson says of the outreach effort.


The benefits of participating in the Collision Repair Campaign are two-fold. “This not only keeps them in compliance, but it goes beyond compliance by focusing on best practices,” Zanolli says.

Holman agrees. “Too many times with the government it’s a slap on the wrist after the fact. This can inspire us to move forward. I’d much rather be proactive than reactive.”

Being proactive about his employees’ health is top on Holman’s priority list. The image of his co-worker’s watering eyes and running nose has stuck with him for over 20 years—and it’s an image he never wants to see repeated at his shop. “The biggest benefit is safety,” he says of participating in the Campaign and becoming educated on the impending Auto Body Rule. “It’s important to me and my family that I’m safe, and I care about everyone who works for me, so it’s important they’re safe, too.”


According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), toxic exposures in auto body shops can be decreased by 90 percent through the use of best practices. The Agency suggests the following approaches to prevent pollution, reduce toxic emissions and minimize worker exposure:

• Use safer alternative paints and cleaning products
• Perform all spray painting and solvent wipe down in a well-ventilated, well-maintained booth or prep station
• Use high volume/low pressure (HVLP) spray guns or equivalent for all spray paint applications
• Install and use vacuum sanding equipment and automatic gun cleaning units
• Properly ventilate the paint mixing room
• Use appropriate respiratory protection, as well as gloves, clothing and eyewear
• Develop and implement a written respiratory protection program (visit.ehso.com/respprotection02.htm for more info)
• Manage health and safety responsibly and implement a hazard communication plan
• Use a computerized mixing room and mix only the amount of paint needed for each job
• Store and reuse remaining mixed paints

For information on funding and grants that may be available in your area, visit smallbiz-enviroweb.org. Click on your state to view a list of contact information for small business assistance programs near you.

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