Avoid costly fines by creating a safer workplace

Jan. 1, 2020
With many states facing budget shortfalls, administrative agencies are looking at fines as revenue sources.

I was asked recently what the penalty from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) would be for a shop using an illegal air blower. After checking with an OSHA office in California, I discovered the offending shop could get a fine of up to $7,000.

Your shop's first aid kit must be OSHA approved and must fit the needs of your shop based on its size and the work performed there. (Image / Certified First Aid of Texas)

You may think OSHA would only slap such a high-dollar penalty on a shop that was a repeat offender or had other serious problems. Think again.

With many states facing budget shortfalls and other serious economic problems, administrative agencies, more than ever, are looking into fines as revenue sources. There is plenty of evidence in California to support this theory. Getting caught using a cell phone while driving for a first-time offender can net a $148 fine in California. Parking in a handicap zone is a $976 fine for the first offense and $1,876 for a second offense. Motorists can pay $436 for failing to stop at a stop sign.

Make sure your shop has the specified number of fire extinguishers. Keep them accessible and unblocked, and keep someone on staff to ensure they are properly charged and tagged. (Image / Amerex)

If your shop isn't meeting OSHA compliance, you could be a prime target for some very expensive penalties. Of course, you shouldn't be looking at OSHA compliance alone as a monetary issue. Being compliant translates into maintaining a safe, organized workplace that's also more productive.

Extension cords that are damaged are serious safety violations. Use only cords that are in good shape and never attempt to repair them with electrical tape. (Image / Power Guardian)

I have been taking a 40-hour online OSHA course and have been checking for violations in body shops as I conduct I-CAR training on site. What I have seen is, in some cases, unbelievable, but fixable. Let's take a look at some of the more common violations in the body shop.

All storage containers need to be properly labeled (Image / Fremouw Environmental Services)

Checklists

Keep in mind that meeting OSHA compliance is an everyday endeavor. It's something you have to work for, and being compliant isn't an easy chore, nor is it exceptionally difficult.

In fact, many of the most common OSHA violations are also obvious safety guidelines and plain-old common sense. Unfortunately, too many owners, managers and others simply walk by these violations every day and do nothing about them, thereby putting themselves, their employees and their businesses at risk.

I want to focus on basics. Once you tackle these potential problems, you'll be better able to handle the more difficult standards OSHA sets.

Run through the following lists, and make sure your shop is OSHA compliant in these areas.

Electrical

  • Check all extension cords for damage. Cords repaired with electrical tape and with broken grounds are both serious violations.
  • All high voltage boxes must be labeled with a DANGER sign.
  • All outlets must have covers installed.
  • All energized parts of electrical circuits and equipment must be guarded with approved cabinets or enclosures to prevent accidental contact.
  • There should be a three-foot barrier clearly marked around all electrical boxes.

Walkways

  • Make sure that all in-ground pulling pots are flush with surface when not in use. Many times, the covers are bent and they are out on the floor, which creates a tripping hazard.
  • Maintain approved spill containment containers. Absorbent material in a small garbage can sometimes works, but it must be marked and placed in an accessible area.

Fire risks

  • Be sure to maintain ungrounded flammable storage containers. Make sure the lids on these containers are always closed and that there is signage on the wall identifying them.
  • Store all flammable liquids in closed containers when not in use.
  • All stored oxygen tanks must be kept at least 25 feet from flammable stored gas cylinders.
  • Fire extinguishers must be mounted within 10 feet of any inside storage area containing flammable materials. (Shops also must maintain the number of fire extinguishers set by city ordinances.)
  • Fire extinguishers must be charged and properly tagged (make sure you have someone in the shop check and sign the tags once a month).
  • Maintain a class D fire extinguisher for a magnesium fire.
  • Extinguishers also must be accessible. Because shops often are short of space, it's not uncommon for equipment or other obstructions to be placed in front of an extinguisher. This is an OSHA violation. Make sure all your fire extinguishers are unblocked.
  • Place proper signage near all fire extinguishers.

Body shop specific

  • Make sure all respirators are placed in a secured bag when not in use.
  • Containers holding solvent need to be sealed.
  • Label all bottles in your shop.
  • Batteries must be stored on a spill containment tray.

Power tools

  • Portable fans must feature full guards or screens having openings of .5 inches or less.
  • All power tools have grounded cords.
  • Make sure all your grinders are fitted with a protective shield.

Medical

Maintain an OSHA-approved safety kit. Not just any kit will do. For more information, refer to American National Standard Institute (ANSI) reference list ANSI Z308.1. This list includes the minimum requirements for workplace first aid kits and supplies. Keep in mind that this list is designed for a small work site. It's a useful reference.

OSHA still recommends that employers evaluate their workplace and determine hazards that aren't adequately covered by ANSI Z308.1 to properly identify the necessary supplies that meet the needs for their particular work site.

Proper signage

Posting the proper signs may seem like a minor issue, but it's not to OSHA officials. Among the common signs you'll need to have posted are:

  • DANGER High Voltage
  • DANGER Flammable liquids
  • CAUTION Wear ear protection
  • CAUTION Eye protection must be worn in this area
  • Eye wash station

Meeting OSHA regulations (and avoiding costly fines) and protecting your employees and business provide plenty of incentive to maintaining OSHA compliance. There are other benefits as well.

Two years ago, a shop owner and friend of mine decided to go lean. Part of his lean journey was cleaning his shop and making it OSHA compliant. These efforts helped reduce his cycle time by 20 percent in just six months. The lesson here: a compliant shop is also a significantly more productive shop.