Auto Laundry News - May 2012

Shop Safety — Address Common Sources of Worker Accidents

By Keith Duplessie

Many business owners — be they manufacturing, body shops, cabinetmakers, or, yes, detail shops — can fall into the trap of believing they are doing the right things to manage and run a safe shop. They honestly and earnestly look out for the wellbeing of their employees and, with years of experience and years of accident free operation, often think they are doing a good job of running a clean, safe shop.

However, when a shop owner gets a visit from an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspector they learn differently. Many have violation issues. And while not blatant or reckless on the part of the shop owner, they are still violations of current OSHA requirements, and these owners often find themselves facing substantial fines. Some examples of these seemingly innocuous violations include failure to have a safety plan or proper eye-wash stations. But OSHA might also find that your shop hasn’t done the mandatory fit tests and medical evaluations on employees required to wear respirators. Didn’t know this was a requirement? It may or may not be in your state, but if you aren’t sure, it’s best to look into it and find out.

To make things a little easier for you, here are a few things you can do to make your shop safer and avoid OSHA violations and fines.


Eye Protection
If you’ve ever watched the PBS series “The New Yankee Workshop,” you have heard Norm Abrams talk about shop safety at the start of every show. And as he always says, “There is no more important piece of safety equipment than these — safety glasses.” He is absolutely right. Eye injuries can occur easily, and can cause irreversible damage. Debris can become airborne when a pressure washer or air blower is used. Under the hood, a blown battery, radiator cap, or hose can also pose serious eye damage. And most dangerous of all: chemical can splash into the eyes.

Approved protective eyewear — appropriate for each type of work an employee performs — is cheap insurance. Make sure every employee has one or more pairs that fit, and that they understand that wearing them is not optional.

Another issue to address is the proper equipment to deal with an eye injury should it happen. Proper eye-wash stations are a must. The type you need will depend on the chemicals and hazards your employees can be exposed to. Make sure you have the proper setup to mitigate injury from each and every type of chemical exposure.

You should provide respirators if you use hazardous chemicals and conduct basic respirator training and fit testing as OSHA requires. Some respirators do not require any special training and can be put on and adjusted for use by anyone. Others, though, require getting fitted and the necessary physical checkup and approval by a licensed healthcare provider. Again, it will depend on what type of chemical and environmental hazards the employees are exposed to as to which respirator type you need. Also, if you are going to use respirators, you will need to implement uniform policies in reference to facial hair. To use negative pressure respirators, a clean-shaven face is required to make an adequate seal, whereas a positive pressure respirator may not require this.

If you cannot afford the appropriate respirators, and the associated fit testing and medical exams for the chemicals you now use, then you may want to consider adjusting the chemicals you use.

Hand injuries account for more lost workdays in the automotive service industry than any other type of injury. As with eye protection, you increase the odds that the proper style of protective gloves are worn if you make them readily available.

There are several types of gloves needed. Leather or flame resistant cotton gloves should be used when working around hot metal (engine or exhaust systems). Rubber-insulated “lineman’s gloves,” rated at 1,000 volts, should be worn when working around the electrical system of a hybrid vehicle. Nitrile gloves that are at least 4 or 5 mil thick will help protect workers from contact with and skin absorption of chemicals and solvents.


Proper training on procedures will create awareness and prevention of potential injuries and hazards within the shop. Special areas of training that OSHA may focus on are:

Back Injuries
Most back injuries result from improper lifting. Give employees regular reminders about “good lifting” basics. Plant both feet shoulder-width apart, squat down with your back straight and knees bent, grip load with both hands, stand slowly letting your legs do the lifting. Never twist while lifting or carrying a load. Use a similar process to unload, bending your knees, not your back.

Blood-Borne Pathogens
Even dried blood poses risks when it is moistened, such as during interior detailing. Again, protective nitrile gloves (worn under heavier work gloves when necessary) and eye protection are critical. Have chlorine bleach and alcohol disinfectants on hand; these can be used on rags or paper towels to clean up droplets or spatter residue, and to clean eye or face protective gear after use. Disinfectant should be allowed to mix with any pooled spill for at least 20 minutes prior to clean up.

Safety Equipment
Provide training on fire extinguishers and other emergency equipment. It is never a good time to learn how to work an extinguisher when the shop is burning down.

Vehicle Operation
Make sure anyone driving a company or customer vehicle knows to walk around the vehicle to check for obstacles or problems with the vehicle before it is moved. Make sure they honk the horn before backing up and before entering blind spots on the property. An ounce of prevention here can be worth two tons of car-damage cure later.


Take the time to objectively look at your shop. Get the OSHA guidelines, either from the OSHA offices themselves or online, and review your shop based on what OSHA recommends. You may be surprised at how you rate. Some things that you should look at to help ensure that you are in compliance are:

Fire Extinguishers
Many fire extinguishers are rated to handle only two or three of the four types of fires that could occur. Shops should have extinguishers rated for Class A (wood and paper), Class B and C (flammable fluids and electrical), and Class D (special agents, combustible metals).

Many vehicles have magnesium-cast parts (engine blocks, wheels, etc.) and these are extremely flammable and can really only be extinguished with a Class D type of extinguisher. Water sprayed on molten magnesium will produce an explosive hydrogen gas.

Make sure appropriate extinguishers are no more than 50 feet away from any point in the shop, that signs clearly indicate where they are, and that they are inspected monthly and are easily accessible (mounted between 36 and 60 inches off the floor).

Keep a Clean Shop
Clean up spills immediately; ensure that the floor is clear of clutter; put used rags in approved storage bins; keep workbench surfaces neat and clear of clutter; and never stack anything in front of doors or emergency exits. Tripping, slips and falls, and hand injuries are caused by unnecessary items lying on the floor or on work surfaces in a cluttered mess. Excess chemical on the floor can not only lead to slips, but could lead to chemical contamination of employees’ skin or shop fires. Once a spill is cleaned up, dispose of the absorbent material in the proper container, and rinse out mops and buckets.


Many injuries are caused each year by improperly labeled or used chemicals and tools that are faulty or malfunctioning. Ensure that you have a regular maintenance program for your tools and that you follow OSHA guidelines when dispensing chemicals.

Power Tools
Check for worn or frayed cords and plugs, and replace or have repaired as necessary. These can cause electrocution if not attended to. Provide training to employees on proper handling and use of tools (never carry them by the cord, or yank the cord to unplug it from the socket) and on reporting faulty equipment. Ensure that regular maintenance on tools is an assigned task within the shop, and if any are found that should not be used, ensure that they are brought off line immediately, marked, and then stored in a locked cabinet so they cannot accidently be used. Make sure buffers and other rotating equipment have guards in the specified positions.

Mark Containers
Most chemicals come in already-marked containers. Ensure, if this is the container that will dispense the chemical, that the label is always clearly visible and, if not, remark it. Also ensure that you mark secondary containers (like spay and squeeze bottles) with the same name and product information found on the original container from which it came, as well as the dilution rate. Follow the OSHA guidelines when doing this. This is a common OSHA violation,
and beyond that, can lead to injury. Also, never reuse previously marked secondary containers for another product. Multiple product use leads to confusion about what product is in the container, and mixing of potentially volatile products that can cause injury, and make it hard to treat those injuries.

Because of the types of tools and work involved in the detail business, you will never be able to completely eliminate workplace injuries or accidents. But, these steps will go a long way in addressing the most common sources of worker accidents and lost-time incidents.

Keith Duplessie is technical services manager for Portland, OR-based Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems. You can reach Keith at

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