Tuesday, 31 August 2004 10:00

What agencies will be looking for when inspecting shop

Written by Dick Strom

Some time ago I noticed the outside walls of our paint mixing room had never been painted. Interestingly, though we had occupied this building for close to 15 years, in which time I'd walked past this wall many thousands of times, I'd never noticed that when we built this building, being in a mad rush to get it up to production, we'd forgotten to finish a number of the final details. 

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My point is this: It's not necessarily a matter of shops' intentionally ignoring errors and omissions, or intentionally allowing potentially hazardous situations to exist, or intentionally ignoring a dangerous situation in the making. We're just very busy entrepreneurs - working at a hectic pace to satisfy consumers, insurers, employees, creditors, and the like - trying to make a living in a very demanding world.

Especially with the high costs associated with L&I, insurance, and loss of production associated with on-job injuries, I seriously doubt even that a small minority of shop owners intentionally ignore potentially hazardous shop conditions. But being the creatures of habit that we are, we all need to be occasionally reminded.

Two local collision shop owners I know have recently received the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) "full meal deal"…… two inspectors basically taking up residence at these shops for up to three days each, tracking employees' every move and pestering staff and employees with multitudes of questions to determine their safety-mindedness and compliance. Shop and office production was brought virtually to a standstill as inspectors also dug through shop files, MSDS paperwork, and the like. Both shop owners related that it was not a fun experience.

Will your shop pass muster?

The question is, when OSHA comes calling, will your shop pass, or be fined and forced to comply? Following is a reminder, a wake-up call of sorts that, if heeded, could save you and your shop a lot of heartache and expense. Because as sure as death and taxes, sooner or later OSHA will be knocking at your door…… removing it if need be. And when they do, it won't be as simple as the walk-through inspection we requested.

Basically, OSHA, as the federal arm of workplace safety and health compliance, has set certain basic standards that all shops must meet. OSHA's mission statement (www.osha.gov) in part states that their mission is "…to assure the safety and health of America's workers by setting and enforcing standards, providing training, outreach, and education, establishing partnerships, and encouraging continual improvement in workplace safety and health."

In addition, most, if not all, states have one or more safety compliance setting and monitoring agencies of their own. Federal OSHA often approves, monitors, and partially funds such state-plan programs. OSHA guidelines, as the federal basis of compliance, must be met.

Additionally, employers comply with whatever else individual states' legislate into their own standards for workplace safety and health. In my state, for instance, WISHA (Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act - administered by the Washing-ton State Department of Labor and Industries) works in conjunction with OSHA, performing random inspections. Perhaps the term "random inspections" is a bit misleading: Though some inspections apparently are performed solely on a random basis, incidents that increase your odds of being inspected include safety or health-related complaints from employees or former employees, accidents, and fatalities.

But the good news is that OSHA and your state's compliance agencies also perform walk-through inspections on a shop-voluntary basis; any shop wanting to know what they need to do to be in full compliance with OSHA requirements can call for a walk-through inspection. But be prepared to make the changes suggested, or risk a full re-inspection.

Who would invite OSHA in?

You may be wondering who in his right mind would intentionally invite OSHA in to critique his shop. Well, I did…… believing that "to be forewarned is to be forearmed." I had assumed we would also be able to convince a fair number of neighboring collision and mechanical shops to attend the debriefing. True to collision industry form, though, less than half of those who indicated they would attend actually did. But the lack of promised shops in attendance didn't hinder our inspectors from presenting their program, performing their inspection, and answering a number of pertinent questions from those who did show up.

Such compliance agencies are divided up into sections, with specialists inspecting different aspects of compliance in each. In the afternoon of the appointed day, an "Industrial Hygiene Consultant" checked our compliance in matters relating to the physical health, safety, and well-being of employees, while a "Safety Consultant" checked our compliance in those areas relating to the "nuts and bolts mechanical" aspects of shop compliance.

At least one representative employee from our shop accompanied each inspector to answer questions to the best of our ability, supplying proper support paperwork, and the like. Discrepancies found are divided into Serious Hazards (those that could result in death or serious physical harm), and General Hazards (those that could result in an employee becoming injured or ill, but that have no reasonable probability of causing death or serious physical harm).

Superior - with caveats

Though we received a "Superior" rating for our having hired an outside contractor to check all our electrical cords, connections, etc. on a regular basis, suggested changes/improvements our inspectors found in the Serious Hazards category included an improper electrical switch plate (incidentally on the same wall we had forgotten to paint 20 years earlier), and a lack of updated electrical panel labeling.

In the General Hazards category our inspectors made us aware that we needed to replace a non-explosion-proof motor located in our paint mixing room for exhausting paint fumes, with an explosion-proof one, install two "exit" signs in the paint area and one in the repair area, and physically ground our 55-gallon barrel of lacquer thinner and its transfer container, located in our paint materials storage shed, to prevent explosion by static electricity.

Each hazard identified on inspectors' reports also includes a "potential effects of the hazard"explanation and a "recommended action" we should take to be in compliance. These were a great help in addressing our deficiencies.

Also, on their report was a written evaluation of their analysis of the shop's health and safety program, with recommendations. One interesting discovery was that, though we had a pretty complete collection of MSDS sheets on materials we use, it still included many we no longer use. It was recommended that we "review and edit for use-accuracy" our MSDS sheets, and "archive" those for products we no longer use (for reasons of possible future liability).

Also suggested was arranging MSDS Sheets according to shop departments (one for the paint department materials, another for products collision techs use, another for the detail department, etc.). And it was encouraged that we keep painting respirators in containers with air-tight lids (such as coffee cans or Tupperware containers), rather than in zip-lock plastic bags that solvent vapors and outside air can infiltrate, shortening the use-life of the masks. The above will give you only a general, partial idea of what inspectors will be looking for when they come calling. But an ounce a prevention is always much more valuable, and far less painful, than a pound of cure.


Top five violations

Digging through my file drawers of collision-related articles ("consulting my sources" for those of you with your nose in the air), I found one written by Mark Clark for BodyShop Business (March 1998) that may be of help to shops. Titled Breaking the Rules: (OSHA) regulations that shops most frequently break, Clark identified OSHA's list of the five top violations for which shops are most commonly penalized.

#1 Hazardous communication

The most common OSHA shop citation is for violation of the 1910.1200 section of OSHA standards, "……the well-known 'Hazardous Communication' section that deals with acquiring MSDS Sheets, keeping every container in the shop labeled correctly, and having a written program that documents the employee training provided (by the shop). If you haven't kept up your MSDS binder, or kept the mixed color in correctly labeled cans, or if you've failed to either train, or document the training of your employees, your shop is in violation of this OSHA standard."

#2 General industry standard

Number two on OSHA's list of shop violations is their General Industry Standard 1910.107, relating to Spray Finishing Using Flammable and Combustible Materials, "……dealing with the construction of the spray booth itself, the speed of air movement through it (100 FPM minimum), its fire protection and electrical wiring, including lighting."

This section hits home hard to me. It concerns my first contained painting area some 30 years ago - a sheetrock-lined "booth" (for lack of a better description), with unenclosed fluorescent lighting units buzzing, to keep me company, mounted on its interior walls. A very small squirrel cage fan, grossly inadequate to properly ventilate even the smallest amount of paint work, sat in one lower corner. The light switch was located inside the booth next to the door.

One day, as I exited my "booth," typically so dense with paint fumes that I couldn't see its far wall, as I flipped the light switch off I heard a muffled "poof" - a never forgotten warning that God does position protecting angels around some of His less than smart children, which had just prevented my being blown to the seven winds. I was able to go home to my wife and family that night, but every now and then we hear of another painter who bit the dust before his time. By the way, after giving thanks for a second chance, I moved the switch to outside the booth, and reconfigured the lighting

#3 Respiratory protection

Number three OSHA violation concerns standard 1910.134 - Respiratory Protection. Besides issuing fines if your painters aren't wearing proper, if any, respirator protection, "…this standard requires that the shop has a written respirator program, and that employees be given respirator fitting instructions.

Some of us with time in the military will never forget the importance of knowing the correct way to maintain and install gas masks. When those sadistic Drill Instructors broke open the tear gas in that small Quonset hut it was obvious which recruits had taken their training seriously. Those who hadn't were the ones with rivers of bodily fluids running profusely from their nose, mouth , eyes and other areas - the guys with incredibly bloodshot eyes, wheezing for un-compromised oxygen, and spewing with uncontrolled profanities.

But the long-term effects of misfit paint respirators is much more serious than that with tear gas. Clark continues, "Often, your paint jobber can providing a training and fit-testing session that will meet these requirements. And remember, the government wants to see all your plans in writing, including who was trained, and when," OSHA's point being that all the state of the art respiratory protection your money can buy is worthless if it isn't properly maintained, and used.

#4 Flammables and combustible liquids

Lucky number four on OSHA's list of the most violated is violation 1910. 106 - that concerning Flammables and Combustible Liquids. "OSHA will cite your facility if your shop isn't handling, storing, venting and using these products in compliance with their standards. Since virtually every paint product in your shop has the ability to form an ignitable mixture with air, the key here is to eliminate every source of ignition. And keep in mind that all the expensive wiring in the world won't help if the painters are lighting matches in the paint room."

#5 Portable fire extinguishers

And last but not least on OSHA's list of the most violated is their number 1910.157 - Portable Fire Extinguishers. This one requires you to have a reliable method of extinguishing fires, "…mounting, locating, and identifying them so they're readily available to employees without subjecting (employees) to possible injury. The placement, use, maintenance, and testing of extinguishers are designed to assure they can be easily found and used (in the panic of a fire). Your kids are taught in school what to do should a fire occur, and so should you and your employees."

Thirty-some years ago, while in a tech school for body shop training, when our instructor yelled "Fire!" - out of all of us, the instructor was the only one who grabbed an extinguisher. A couple years ago when some wrecker was dropping off a collision-damaged vehicle in our lot, his wrecker developed an under-hood fire. This time, I'm happy to say, when my employees responded, nearly every one had an extinguisher in hand. Shop training and roll-play emergency response pays off.

The likelihood is that sooner or later OSHA will be knocking at your door. And when they do it won't be as simple as our walk-through inspection. Will you be ready?

Dick Strom, Modern Collision Rebuild, 9270 Miller Road, NE, Bainbridge Island, Washington 98110; (206) 842-3621; e-mail: moderncol@aol.com.