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A Hazardous Profession

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A Hazardous Profession
What makes a car stand out in the crowd of millions of others? Is it the style? Is it the paint? Or is it the price? All of these can make a car appeal to people, but do they take the time to think of the work and effort involving making a car look they way it does? The professionals in auto body know what it takes to make a car look and stay brand new. This is a profession that most people do not understand. They do not know the health risks and hazards involved in completing very simple to complex jobs. Many workers in this field are exposed to health and environmental risks everyday on the job. Due to the amount of potential health hazards involved in the auto body profession, owners and technicians need to be educated in the regulated use, storage, and disposal of hazardous chemicals, as well as trained in proper safety procedures to promote a safe work environment.
Many professionals are aware of the hazards and safety procedures that exist but do not want to change due to costs. The costs for new and up to date equipment can be very expensive. The new equipment also isn’t mandatory so there is no reason for them to change, but the safety and more environment friendly elements make up for the cost and should be made mandatory. Abiding by the rules makes for more training for employees and more responsibility for owners and it is easy to not follow the regulations and laws.
One of the first laws a person in the field of auto body should know is the, “Right to Know Law”. The federal government and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration established this law to help keep workers safe on the job. According to this law, auto body workers have the right to be taught about the hazardous materials that they will be exposed to, and the ways to protect themselves. Workers also need to know that they cannot be fired or discriminated against for asking for information and training on the proper procedure or use of hazardous materials in the workplace (Peters 1).
A second important law auto body professionals need to be familiar with is “The Hazard Communication Regulation.” The Hazard Communication Regulation affects all companies and businesses using hazardous materials at anytime. According to this law, owners must tell employees which materials in the workplace are hazardous, and where the materials are used.
Auto body owners are responsible to teach employees how to tell if hazardous materials have been released, explain container labels, provide material safety data sheets (MSDS), and how to use the information. Employers also need to teach emergency procedures and provide workers with proper protective equipment (Peters 2-3).
One simple way to help create a safe work environment and also prevent pollution is to properly use and store hazardous materials. Training in this area is the most important factor. Training can help prevent accidents, reduce waste, lower workers compensation claims, and reduce shop liability. Another way to insure safety is by keeping lids closed, and checking containers regularly for leaks and spills. This can prevent the loss of a product, and reduce employee exposure to chemicals. Also, labeling all containers, including waste containers, can prevent costly mistakes. Signs such as, “respirators required”, outside rooms where hazardous materials are stored can prevent improper exposure to fumes. Finally, stored materials that are highly flammable or explosive such as aerosol products should be stored away from the shop, in a locked enclosed area with a concrete floor, to reduce fire danger (“Housekeeping”).
Another important factor in safety procedures is mixing materials in the auto body shop. This is an area that workers need extensive training to ensure their safety. Before mixing any hazardous materials the worker must prepare the area, be informed about the material, read the MSDS about the material, put on protective equipment, and make sure the area is properly ventilated (Peters 25). In preparing the area, mixing a material such as paint should be done in a clean room with adequate space and lighting. Being informed, involves the worker reading and understanding the material safety data sheet on the product being used. These sheets are required by OHSA, the U.S Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and they identify the hazards and safety procedures needed to be safe in using the hazardous material (“Housekeeping”).
The protective safety equipment needed in mixing may include gloves, paint suits, and respirators with organic cartridges. Since paint mixing involves physically handling potentially hazardous liquids, painters who mix paints are prone to significant skin and inhalation exposure. Painters can protect themselves from possible hazardous exposures by wearing gloves, using paint suits, and maintaining properly fitted air-purifying respirators (“General Best”).
Due to the highly flammable environment in an auto body shop, technicians need to be educated in fire prevention, fire procedures and safety equipment. Fire prevention involves storing of hazardous materials properly, inspecting spray booths weekly, removing excess paint build up from paint booths, replacing paint filters regularly, making sure containers are properly sealed, and cleaning up spills immediately. In case of a fire, the workers need training to immediately report the fire to the shop manager, call the fire department, evacuate everyone from the building, close all doors and windows and wait for help. If the fire seems controllable, the worker needs to put on protective equipment such as a respirator, and with the correct kind of fire extinguisher, put the fire out (Peters 49).
Since almost every material used in auto body shops today can be a health hazard, auto body workers need to be trained in first aid. They need to know how to treat chemical burns, large heat burns, inhaled toxic substances, swallowed poisonous materials and shock. If not treated correctly, exposure to certain materials could cause lung, kidney, and liver diseases, as well as cancers, sterility and birth defects. Nervous system and brain damage may be caused by materials that are inhaled or absorbed through the skin, then make their way into the bloodstream. Therefore, auto body workers need to know where first aid supplies are kept, be trained in first aid procedures, and know where emergency medical numbers and poison control information is listed (Peters, 43).
Another area auto body workers need to be educated in is in the recycling and disposing of hazardous materials. There are two ways of properly disposing of hazardous materials, recycling and licensed disposal contractors. Some of the items that are able to be recycled are paint thinners, lead acid batteries, and anti-freeze. Recycling may be done on site in individual recycling generators or picked up by a recycling contractor. Other wastes such as paint waste, paint booth filters, used oil, and aerosol containers that can not be totally emptied of their pressure need to be disposed of with licensed hazardous waste haulers. All hazardous waste must be kept separate and not mixed with other waste products. Waste should never be disposed of into septic or sewer systems, or stored near bodies of water that could be contaminated if a spill occurred (“Best Management”).
There are laws concerning the disposing of waste that auto body workers need to know and follow. An example is the law involving paint thinner. Paint thinner waste is regulated under federal and state regulations. Any paint thinner waste from cleaning spray guns used in painting automobiles needs to be placed in approved containers for disposal or recycling (“Best Management”). Another important law is the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of 1976. This law was enacted by Congress to establish a set structure for the management of solid and hazardous waste. It set up “cradle to grave” requirements that basically stated that the users of hazardous wastes were responsible from the time of obtaining the products to the point of disposing of them. RCRA set up a system requiring data sheets that identified the products and accompanied the products from the plants that generated the materials to the final disposal sites. In this way, the materials were tracked from the beginning to the end (“Background: RCRA”).
Currently, auto body workers need to be aware that the EPA (Environmental Protection Act) is in the process of creating new regulations for the “Area Sources”. Area sources are those that give off less than ten tons of a single hazardous air pollutant or less than twenty-five tons or more yearly of a combination of toxic air pollutants. Auto body shops are one of the area sources that will come under this new regulation. This regulation is proposed to go into effect by the end of 2008. The exact terms of the rule are not yet specified, but policymakers have listed several potential measures that may become law. These measures are the following: enclosed spray booths, HVLP application equipment, enclosed gun cleaners, and regulated training for painters (“Auto Body”).
There are various factors that can motivate owners of auto body facilities to make changes. Shops that implement health and safety practices, provide training, conduct routine inspections and follow hazard communication procedures may stem from a genuine concern for a safe work environment for workers. Other factors influencing changes are increasing regulatory requirements, increased production, cost effectiveness, better quality paint jobs and reduced liability risks (“Factors that Motivate”).
Some changes that improve safety and efficiency include the following: vacuum sanders, HVLP spray guns, spray booths, ventilation systems in paint mixing rooms, supplied-air respirators when spraying paints, automated gun cleaners and on site solvent recycling. First, vacuum sanders are an important addition because they produce less dust, limit workers exposure to dust, reduce time sweeping shop floors, keep cars cleaner, and result in better paint jobs. Another positive change is the use of HVLP spray guns. They are known to reduce worker exposure to paint over spray and are already a regulatory requirement in some areas.
A third change is purchasing spray booths. Spray booths keep the paint in an enclosed area and away from other workers. They allow shops to refinish many cars in one day, and the quality of finishes are better due to controlled air flow. A fourth effective change is updating ventilation systems in paint mixing rooms, which minimizes workers exposure to toxic vapors. Also, automated gun cleaners keep painters from manually cleaning the spray guns, and having less exposure to the residue. Finally, purchasing supplied- air respirators provide much better respiratory protection and have more face coverage (“Factors that Motivate”).
As shown by evidence, auto body is a hazardous profession. All workers involved in auto body should be educated and trained in dealing with hazardous materials and what is needed to comply with all of the safety regulations. Due to continuous laws involving hazardous chemicals and required safety procedures, workers in the area of auto body will have a safer work environment. Possibly, in the future non- toxic paint and solvents may be invented, but for now there are many hazardous materials involved in the field of auto body. Auto body workers will continue to make cars look like new in spite of the hazards. In conclusion, the next time a car appears with a great paint job, admire the car, but also think of the hazards the auto body professionals had to protect against to get it that way.


Works Cited

“Auto Body: Reasons for Change.” Pollution Prevention Information Center. 26 Nov. 2006.
“Background: RCRA.” 27 Nov. 2006. back-rcra.asp>
“Best Management Practices for Hazardous Materials/ Waste Handling.” Auto Body Repair Facilities. 12 Nov. 2006.
“Factors That Motivate Owners of Auto Refinish Shops to Implement Changes.” Eastern Research Group. 12 Nov. 2006. factors.pdf>
“General Best Shop Practices: Safe Work Practices that Reduce Worker Exposures to Hazardous Chemicals.” Design for the Environment. 12 Nov. 2006. auto/bestpractices/bestpr.htm>
“Housekeeping: Auto Body Shops Pollution Prevention Guide.” Pollution Prevention Information Center. 12 Nov. 2006. abguide/fs4.cfm>
Peters, David. Collision Repair. Classroom Book. ”Employees Right to Know.” Fall 2006.

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