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Helping Small Business with Health and Safety

Working with small business - safety and health in the automotive collision repair industry

Small businesses play a major role in ensuring the vitality of Washington State's economy. Out of approximately 170,000 employers in Washington State, about 90% have fewer than 20 employees.

Worker safety and health is just one of a multitude of issues that the owner of a small business has to deal with. Preventing injury and illness in these workplaces can be challenging because business owners may have few safety and health resources, may lack the specialized knowledge to identify workplace hazards and may not be able to afford to hire staff devoted to safety and health activities.

The worker health and safety challenges faced by the automotive collision repair industry are typical of those faced by many small businesses. SHARP has worked with this industry since 2005 to help business owners, managers and employees identify and understand the hazards and risks that workers might encounter on the job. We conducted a statewide "needs assessment" survey and analyzed the workers' compensation data for this industry. SHARP's goal is to work with collision repair and other industries to eliminate workplace hazards by developing sensible and effective solutions.

SHARP's "needs assessment" of the collision repair industry

SHARP interviewed leading business owners, business association officers and other knowledgeable individuals to learn more about the health and safety needs of the collision repair industry.

SHARP then visited collision repair shops to gather first-hand information about hazards and work practices. After considering input from our industry partners, researchers and industrial hygienists, we developed a "needs assessment" survey that was mailed to every collision repair shop in Washington State.

Over 69 percent of shops responded to our survey, which is extremely good for a survey of small businesses. We found that collision repair in Washington State is a male-dominated industry comprised chiefly of small, non-unionized, family-run businesses.

We learned that many shops face numerous safety and health challenges that are typical of small businesses. These challenges result from a combination of misinformation within the industry, insufficient funds to address workplace health and safety concerns, and social barriers to enforcing best practices within the shops. Although this survey was restricted to the collision repair industry in Washington State, many of the findings are applicable to any small business.

For more information, read SHARP's Health and Safety in Washington State's Collision Repair Industry: A Needs Assessment (843 KB PDF / 2 min). You may request a paper copy of the report by contacting SHARP.

SHARP's review of the workers' compensation data

SHARP reviewed Washington State's worker's compensation data for the collision repair industry in order to identify the most common and/or costly types of claims. We analyzed the accepted claims for this industry that were filed between 1995 and 2005.

We learned that most of the industry's injuries are minor; finger injuries (mostly from blades) and eye injuries (mostly from sanding and grinding) accounted for 29% and 15% of the accepted claims, respectively. However, overexertion and back injuries drove up claim costs and workers' compensation premium rates because these musculoskeletal injuries frequently result in a loss of wages and permanent partial disabilities. For example, although back injuries represented only 11% of the accepted claims, they accounted for 29% of the total costs.

Although there are some very specific health and safety issues associated with the collision repair industry, many of SHARP's findings and ideas for injury prevention apply to any small business. For suggestions about how to improve health and safety and reduce workers' compensation costs, read SHARP's Preventing injury and illness in auto body shops (79 KB PDF).

Available resources for small businesses

L&I's Small Business Liaison

Contact Ron Langley (L&I's Small Business Liaison) for help with any question or concern with L&I by calling 360-902-4205 or e-mailing SmallBusiness@Lni.wa.gov.

Ron can help small business owners with issues, such as:

  • Workers' compensation.
  • Workplace health and safety.
  • Wage and hour rules.
  • Contractor registration.

You may also subscribe to the L&I News for Small Business newsletter, which will be sent directly to your e-mail every month.

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