OSHA visits can be intimidating, but auto body shops must understand which standards apply to them in order to comply with industry regulations and ensure a safe workplace for their employees.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) exists to protect automotive industry employees by ensuring “safe and healthful working conditions,” but OSHA visits can cause employers considerable stress. When OSHA observes a policy violation, they can fine employers up to 13,620 dollars per violation and up to 132,598 dollars per “willful or repeated” offense.
Auto body shops certainly share OSHA’s goal to rid workplace environments of any harmful practices or sources of danger, but some owners don’t have a comprehensive awareness of the health and safety codes with which they must comply — and the first step to cultivating working conditions in accordance with OSHA standards is to understand what regulations apply to auto shops. Here are the main points employers need to know:
When OSHA Conducts Inspections
In addition to conducting routine inspections, OSHA can make an unprogrammed visit for one of two reasons: someone has submitted a referral, or an accident has occurred. In the case of a referral, the administration has received notice from a witness — whether that be an employee, a customer, or a person who made a passing observation — that the shop poses a health risk to its workers or presents with a standards violation.
In the case of an accident, OSHA requires employers to report work-related fatalities within eight hours and serious injuries (meaning those that result in hospitalization, amputation, or vision loss) within 24 hours. Upon receiving word of these grave circumstances, OSHA will make an unprogrammed inspection.
Programmed inspections, though planned in advance, are still a surprise. OSHA focuses its routine inspections in industries known to have more workplace hazards.
What OSHA Regulates in Automotive Industry Workspaces
Because OSHA visits are unpredictable, and because OSHA regulations are in place to decrease work-related injuries, illnesses, and fatalities in the auto industry, auto body shops should make sure they are compliant and up-to-date with OSHA standards at any given time.
Auto shops must comply with OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard, generally referred to as an employee’s “Right to Know.” In accordance with the Hazard Communication Standard, employers must properly educate their employees about any hazardous chemicals in the workplace, which means providing proper labeling, safety sheet, and necessary training.
Auto shops must treat machinery with the same level of precaution and transparency. This means ensuring that employees know how to use tools that pose a danger to them, that they have access to the necessary safety equipment (such as eye goggles, noise canceling headphones, or industrial gloves), and that the machinery is correctly installed, secured, stored, and maintained.
When using air compression in your shop, make sure that your compressor meets industry standards — personal or pocket air blowers used for painting and cleaning are strictly prohibited and can result in death when excessive pressure is misapplied to the human body. In addition, pneumatic paint sprayers can expose mechanics to hazardous chemicals and flammable substances, so auto body shops must ensure the workspace is equipped with the mandatory fire safety materials, emergency evacuation plans, and respiratory protection gear. It must also have a layout that facilitates protected spraying, as in a flameproof booth, and thorough clean-up.
Auto shops must also comply with baseline organizational safe practices, keeping walkways clear, first-aid kits well-stocked and labeled, and spaces clean. Electrical wiring must comply with OSHA standards, and electrical panels must have warning signs and a regulation-sized aisle.
How to Stay Compliant with OSHA Standards
OSHA standards are comprehensive and can be confusing. Refer to OSHA’s list of frequently cited standards to learn more about common violations that pertain to auto body repair and refinishing, and do not hesitate to contact industry professionals or your local OSHA office about any questions you may have.
Employers are encouraged to reach out to OSHA about any uncertainties and can even access OSHA compliance assistance programs. Note that contacting OSHA about a question will not trigger them to launch an investigation into your organization.