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You Could Put An Eye Out with That

I’m going to tell you about things that could hinder your business.

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  1. The No. 1 injury in body shops.
  2. The two “Dirty Little Secrets” our industry chooses to disregard.
  3. Free information to prevent misfortune and costs.
  4. Why S/P2 is for you – and everyone in your shop.


1. The No. 1 Injury
At a recent body shop meeting in the Midwest, I asked this question: “Do you know what the No. 1 injury is to auto repair and maintenance technicians?” Several guessed, but no one was sure of the right answer.

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Here it is: A simple eye injury.

“How many of you have been a technician during your career?” was the next question I asked the group. More than 80 percent of the hands went up, all male.

“How many of you have personally experienced an eye injury that caused you to leave work?” The same number of hands went up again.

Every one (100 percent) of the people who’d worked on cars said they’d suffered eye injuries that had caused them to leave work. It was a shock to find out how prevalent eye injuries really are.

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Since then, I’ve asked the same question about eye injuries in other meetings, and the response from technicians in the crowd is always more than 90 percent.

At another meeting I attended, one individual told me that he had – and this is the truth and nothing but the truth – more than 60 documented eye injuries during his career. I’ve known this man personally for 20 years, and fearing that I’d misheard him, I responded, “What did you say?”

He laughed and turned to his wife, saying, “Honey, isn’t it true that I’ve had over 60 eye injuries?”

She answered, “No, you’ve had over 80 eye injuries. We’ve had the same doctor since he started working on cars, and the doctor just retired, so we went over to pick up all of my husband’s files. I went through them and was surprised how many times he’d gone to the doctor or the emergency room.”

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The point: While the industry debates cycle time, productivity, profits and insurer-owned body shops, shop owners can’t clearly identify what injuries their employees are most likely to incur. Technicians are nicked, cut, burned and exposed to things that they don’t have to be, and the industry has silently looked the other way.

2. Two Dirty Little Secrets
At the Coordinating Committee for Automotive Repair (CCAR), we’ve found two dirty little secrets that are legally and morally wrong with auto repair and maintenance businesses that must be addressed.

Dirty Little Secret No. 1: Shops in general aren’t keeping their technicians safe on the job. Many are in grievous violation of OSHA laws (and they don’t have to be).

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Dirty Little Secret No. 2: Many shops are in violation of major federal and state environmental regulations (and again, they don’t have to be).

These two areas will become weapons in the battle for recruitment in the future. Scarce technicians will learn enough to interview potential employers and walk away from unsafe environments and businesses that are poor stewards of the environment.

Face facts. No one signs on to get hurt on the job. No one wants to be identified with a company that pollutes. Employees want to be proud of the company they work for. And it’s each shop’s responsibility to stay in legal compliance, and that requires shop-wide effort.

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The insurance community is realizing that having a business license,

I-CAR certification and a welding certificate isn’t enough. Insurers are aware that their own appraisers and customers aren’t safe when walking through many shops. Insurers have realized that they don’t want shops in their direct-repair programs that knowingly violate laws.

Not knowing the laws and not complying may cost you in fines, but it’ll definitely cost you in lost days, wasted materials and lost hiring opportunities.

CCAR, with the help and funding of the industry, is taking an aggressive approach to helping shops overcome the two dirty little secrets. Both the EPA and OSHA work on a “carrot and stick” basis. We can clean up and move forward with their assistance (carrot), or they can come in and prosecute violations to the maximum (stick).

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So which is it?

You’d never knowingly let an air compressor run dry on oil. Why let human beings be injured on the job?

3. Free Information
Why does any shop violate an OSHA or EPA law? They don’t know how to comply, or they don’t care. Either way, a shop opens itself up for huge fines. They also put employees at high risk as well. The risks are injury or illness, or the employees decide to quit. Why have this risk?

Environmental impact is also worse than you might think. Shops that pollute, knowingly or unknowingly, make their problem everyone else’s problem. Oil or thinner going down the drain affects you, me, your spouse, your daughter, your grandson and everyone else in your community. We’re all drinking the same water.

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When Freon releases into the atmosphere, we’re all breathing the same air. It’s illegal at best, and immoral at worst. The same people who don’t take care of the pollutants at work are often the ones who like to fish, hunt or go for a walk by a river or lake.

Tens of thousands of managers allow small bits of oil, antifreeze and waste thinners to be poured down the drain. Bit by bit, shops are killing the wonderful natural resources in this country. As a result of this and other forms of pollution, several groups have recommended that pregnant women should not eat any fish from Lake Michigan because of the high mercury content.

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Who else cares about these dirty secrets? Good question. How about the guy who didn’t use a respirator 20 years ago and struggles to draw a breath right now because he has a lung disease? It’s amazing how focused you get when you can’t breathe. The boss just couldn’t get him to wear a respirator. Both are at fault.

How about the shop manager who gets hit with a heavy OSHA or EPA fine? He complains like crazy, but that’s not really an answer to being out of compliance, is it?

In cooperation with the U.S. EPA, CCAR operates “CCAR-GreenLink,” the National Automotive Environmental Compliance Assistance Center. The Center’s free Web site (www.ccar-greenlink.org) is there to help businesses and technicians in the automotive repair and maintenance industry find out how to prevent pollution (P2) and handle hazardous waste. CCAR is also adding OSHA information that’s specific for auto repair.

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State laws supersede federal laws and change often. CCAR is assisted by federal and state government agencies in maintaining and adding contacts, links and the latest information.

Remember, paint waste may be handled very differently in California than in Montana. This site is free; use it.

4. Safety and Pollution Prevention Training
Shops have been focused on technical training for a long time, and more recently, on financial and management issues. These areas are absolutely necessary, and this training has significantly improved the businesses that have taken advantage of it.

We’ve now reached the point where, due to regulations and a real need to stop harming the health of our employees and our environment, we need to add safety and environmental training to the list of training areas absolutely necessary for our industry.

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CCAR, in addition to its free Web site, has begun providing online training called “S/P2,” which stands for “Safety and Pollution Prevention” training. S/P2 trains everyone in the operation. And when everyone knows what to do, it’s amazing how things begin to clean up and stay clean.

The law requires every employee to be trained before they go into the work area, and annual training beyond. The S/P2 online training also allows delivery anywhere and any time you or your staff can access the Internet.

Three courses are available:

  1. The first course is for the supervisor or office staff and deals with paperwork, hazardous communication, a written plan (which you can download and use), OSHA forms, MSDS and the knowledge to become more compliant with the most common OSHA and EPA challenges a shop faces.
  2. The second course is on safety and identifies the top 10 job hazards that technicians face, starting with eye injuries. Want to know what’s second? Use S/P2, and you’ll know that and a lot more, like how to prevent them. This course covers more than 90 percent of the injuries, illnesses and deaths that occur on the job.
  3. Third is the pollution prevention course, which covers the top 10 ways we pollute in the body shop. There are techniques to go beyond simple compliance with the laws that reduce pollution and reduce or prevent “waste streams” from your shop.

CCAR provides S/P2 for free to any non-profit career and technical school, thanks to industry sponsorships. Versions also are available for autobody or mechanical programs. More than 700 automotive career/technical centers have already adopted S/P2, and more than 43,000 students have S/P2 available. Businesses may sign up online at www.sp2.org using a credit card. Your shop is required by law to provide training on OSHA and EPA issues to employees. Why not use safety and environmental stewardship as a part of your human resource strategy and retention approach? You can access CCAR-GreenLink’s environmental compliance information for free at www.ccar-greenlink.org and you can check out specific S/P2 online training at www.sp2.org.

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Let’s eliminate the two dirty little secrets. It’s the right thing to do.

Writer Lirel Holt is chairman of CCAR, vice-chair Emeritus of the I-CAR Education Foundation and has received numerous awards for industry contributions. He was also voted as one of the 20 “Movers and Shakers” in the collision industry of the 20th century.

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