When a fire ripped through an Alabama dealership’s service department in 2017, killing three shop employees and injuring two others, the accident was a grim reminder that auto repair is dangerous and poses numerous daily risks.

The headline-grabbing incident was one of thousands in dealership service departments and other repair shops that year, causing 14,430 injuries that were reported to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

As new-vehicle dealerships increasingly rely on fixed operations for revenue, and the flat-rate pay system rewards service technicians who work quickly, some industry analysts warn that shops are at increased risk of employee injuries.
Many injuries reported to OSHA are minor, such as cuts, bruises and muscle strains. But the total in 2017, the last year for which data are available, was 20 percent higher than in 2013. The list included 1,120 broken bones, 30 amputations and 50 work-related deaths.

Even minor shop injuries can increase a dealership’s insurance costs. Dealerships can incur additional expenses to hire and train a replacement if an injury sidelines a productive technician. Nearly one-third of shop injuries idle techs for more than 10 days, OSHA says. 

The above excerpt is a snapshot into what auto repair shops face on a day to day basis, and how important a strong safety culture is in preventing injuries.

Auto repair shops have numerous injury exposures that put mechanics and technicians at risk. 2017 was the last year that injury data was gathered by OSHA in regard to auto repair shop related injuries. The data indicated a total of 14,430 total injuries, which was a 20% increase from 2013.

The jump in shop injuries has been thought to be equated to the constant pressure on service departments to crank out more repair jobs to increase revenues. There is a lot of emphasis on moving from one job to the next. Also, the shops with a flat-rate-system, which benefits techs who complete jobs faster than standard book times, likely contributes to increased injuries as well.

Another angle which can help highlight the increase in repair shop injuries is the aging workforce among techs. The bodies of the techs aren’t as strong as they once were decades ago when they started in the field. Also, the employee who has been doing the job for decades isn’t likely to be open to how to do their job safer since they’ve been doing it for so long and might not of experienced an injury. With that mentality an injury is more likely to occur.

The best way to help reduce these injuries in auto repair garages is to initiate monthly safety meetings with a designated safety team or committee. Monthly safety meetings can address safe work practices, refresher on relevant training, and a review of any injuries / claims that have occurred. Quarterly meetings are a common practice, but they fail to generate the momentum and steam that more frequent meetings create. It also gets the discussion of safety throughout the company at a higher frequency, and shows the employees that management has a strong commitment to safety as well. The frequent safety training is critical in this fast past environment and with the overall workforce aging.

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