Best Body Shops’ Tips: Best Practices for an Effective Health & Safety Program
Written by Stacey Phillips, Autobody News
Published May 4, 2021
An effective health and safety program can help collision repair facilities reduce injury and illness rates, decrease workers’ compensation costs, increase productivity and improve morale across the workforce, according to Wayne Curtis, director of field services at KPA.
Based in Lafayette, CO, KPA provides environment, health and safety (EHS) and workplace compliance software and services for a wide range of industries, including automotive.
Each year, about 100 KPA safety specialists conduct audits at more than 2,000 auto collision-related facilities across the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada to determine if businesses are compliant. Once the evaluations are complete, the company then discusses concerning issues, offers recommendations and conducts training if necessary.
“The goal is to help companies proactively identify risks, stay up-to-date on evolving regulations and keep workers safe,” said Curtis, who has worked with KPA for 17 years.
He estimates KPA completed more than 20,000 in-person and virtual field visits to auto dealerships, collision repair shops, trucking and rental car locations in 2020. This is a similar number that took place prior to the pandemic. In addition, the company conducted 1.2 million trainings last year, the majority of which were online.
“It was certainly challenging for us during the pandemic,” said Curtis. “I was impressed with our team keeping up with the services and demands.”
Autobody News reached out to Curtis to learn more about the importance of establishing an effective health and safety program that ensures compliance with national and state regulations.
How can a collision repair facility ensure proper compliance?
I recommend starting with the basics. The first step is to evaluate the shop’s current situation and do an assessment.
I’m emphatic that all collision repairers should perform an audit to identify environmental and safety risks. This will help determine the necessary actions to meet mandatory requirements, avoid citations and potential legal action. Third-party companies, such as KPA, are available for these types of audits.
After reviewing the inspection results, the next step is to determine the priorities when developing a health and safety program that addresses the high-risk areas in your workplace. All collision centers are required to have a written hazard communication program and provide training to employees as a basic Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirement.
Facilities are also required to install a program to protect workers from respiratory hazards. Shop owners and managers can ask themselves: “Are all employees trained on our workplace hazards and how to protect themselves? Have employees who wear tight-fitting respirators been fit tested? Have they been medically evaluated to wear a respirator and do you have proof of medical clearance on file?”
If the answer is “no” and a facility determines that it doesn’t have a good process in place, it’s important to find someone who can assist. Not only can it help streamline the steps needed to navigate the maze of regulations, but it can also bring the shop to a level of compliance sooner, faster and less expensive than you can do on your own.
In addition, facilities should pay close attention to environmental requirements. This includes practices related to waste management, documenting hazardous waste inspections, container labeling and retaining waste manifests.
A safe workplace requires more than just being compliant. Periodic evaluations can help identify weaknesses in the processes your company uses to address hazards. By being proactive, it allows everyone to have the knowledge to identify and resolve hazards before they create a serious incident.
What types of regulations should repair facilities be aware of?
There are requirements by OSHA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation (DOT), as well as state regulations. The collision industry is heavily regulated when it comes to EHS. The same standards that apply to auto dealerships apply to collision centers. It’s imperative to have the tools, resources and equipment that allow for the most compliant and safe applications.
It seems that the Biden administration is paying close attention to the environment, specifically the Clean Air Act. I’ve also seen increased activity with the EPA 6H Rule, the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants. EPA Region 4 recently sent out letters to collision centers reminding who is subject to 6H rule requirements and emphasizing the importance of compliance.
The 6H rule requires an initial notification form to be sent to the EPA, ongoing employee training and other requirements such as paint booth filter efficiency and HVLP paint guns. The industry is adapting to these rules. With newer paint lines carrying fewer heavy metals, petitioning the EPA for an exemption is now possible. We are very focused on that right now and feel that it will be a key focus area over the next few years.
The EPA Clean Air Act penalty policy is stringent and has escalation factors for larger businesses. The EPA expects larger companies, that have better funding and resources, to use these resources to achieve compliance.
If non-compliance is observed, an economic penalty is assessed based on the size of the violator. If you are an MSO and have one facility that is not compliant, you could be looking at hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars of liability.
It’s critical for shops to develop written compliance programs for federal and state safety regulations. In some areas of the country, such as California, it can be really challenging to keep up with the regulatory climate without having a dedicated EHS person on your staff. Compliance is often very complex and having a consulting company that comes in to help navigate can be advantageous.
What are some best practices facilities can put into place?
Business success cannot occur without having a workforce educated in industry regulations, internal policies, safety and ethics. At a minimum, all employees should be trained on the types of hazards that are present and where they can get access to information about chemicals that can lead to these types of situations.
This is where compliance training can be so helpful. Many accidents that take place in the workplace are avoidable. Providing regular safety training for employees helps you establish a safety culture and is proven to reduce injuries.
I always recommend establishing a safety committee and holding regular meetings. It’s a great way to keep your team up-to-date with EHS initiatives and helps adds a strategy on how to achieve your EHS goals. A good rule of thumb is having a quarterly safety committee meeting to assign preventative actions, develop incentive and enforcement programs and review processes.
Helpful checklists and resources are available at www.kpa.io.
What are some of the most impactful changes you have seen as a result of COVID-19?
There are a lot of changes regarding regulations that have happened since the pandemic.
In March 2021, an OSHA Directive was released, outlining the policies and procedures for implementing a National Emphasis Program (NEP) for COVID-19. The NEP focuses on high-hazard industries such as health care and dentistry, which are more likely to come in direct contact with COVID-19 positive cases. The collision industry was not listed as a primary focus of the NEP.
When President Biden came into office, OSHA provided updated COVID guidance within a week. Since that time, we’ve seen the initial steps towards scaling back of CDC guidance. We expect that’s a sign of the vaccinations and more information on the risk of infection.
President Biden also asked OSHA to investigate if an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), a new OSHA standard, should be issued regarding COVID. On April 26, OSHA issued a proposal for a Federal ETS to be issued. An ETS would effectively bypass the normal rulemaking process of OSHA. If adopted, OSHA would have six months to adopt a permanent rule. We expect to know more about the details of OSHA’s proposed rule soon.
In regard to local COVID regulations, these still remain very different and under direct enforcement. It’s imperative to follow what is going on in the state, county and city where your business operates. That can be very challenging since each local area has done things very differently in regulating the pandemic.
What are some of your predictions for the future?
Short-term, we should expect a loosening of COVID guidelines and a greater consideration on the risk of infection. I recommend all businesses to continue to remain in alignment with CDC and OSHA guidelines even while vaccinations increase and local regulations are lifted. Long-term, it will be interesting to see the Biden administration’s activities and how that will impact our industry.
Over time, we expect increased budgets to be passed for agencies such as OSHA, EPA and DOT. Likewise, we should expect increased funding for enforcement, leading to more boots-on-the-ground inspectors performing more frequent inspections.
Protecting the environment was a key campaign pledge for Biden so we will be keeping a close eye on any areas of emphasis, namely air and water. KPA will remain on the lookout for any areas that impact collision centers and how we comply.
On the federal level, 6H will continue to be a focus. Also, we expect to see increased enforcement under the Clean Air Act penalty policy for car and truck modifications that reduce the original manufacturer emissions settings or equipment.
The ultimate goal should be to have an overall compliance program for your business. We all have challenges hiring workers and if we’re down one or two employees due to an entirely preventable safety accident, it speaks directly to the bottom line. By implementing good strategies and being compliant, the fewer incidents shops will have and the less likely they will be involved in litigation.
From an owner’s perspective, you can sleep better at night knowing you have an established compliance program in place to help ensure a safe, healthy, compliant and productive workplace. You limit your risks and know your employees will return home in good health to their family members.