Health and safety are subjects that body shop managers and their teams are very familiar with, though not everyone follows all the rules all of the time.
The wellbeing of staff is paramount to the success of any business. Across the UK the number of days lost to work-related ill-health and workplace injury in 2019 was a staggering 28.2 million, according to the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Labour Force Survey, which found there 581 000 work injury incidents in the single year.
Apart from the obvious desire to keep staff safe, the crippling cost of this absenteeism is reason enough to take health and safety seriously. Here, we look at the main areas of concern within a workshop environment, as told to us by those on the frontline.
The pandemic has introduced a whole new catalogue of safety measures for managers to consider, from sterilisation to social distancing and screening. However, the physical work within body shops poses very particular challenges and temptations to technicians, and possibly the most effective anti-virus measure is the correct and continued use of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE).
In a body shop environment there seems to be a never-ending list of hazards we have to manage, some of the main ones are obviously around health and safety for our team.
Firstly, and especially in today’s unprecedented times, you need constant auditing when the new Covid-19 processes, but we cannot afford to take our eye off the ball when it comes to the team wearing PPE during their daily tasks. A workshop controller can complete a regular audit sheet which is placed on file in a BSI folder, which includes things such as the team wearing goggles, ear defenders and gloves.
No one who has spent a day on the workshop floor will underestimate the dangers of lifting heavy items. In fact, according to HSE figures, 20% of all non-fatal workplace injuries that led to days off work in 2018/19 were the result of handling, lifting or carrying heavy items.
One of the common hazards anyone is keen to eliminate is poor technique when lifting heavy item. Heavy lifting puts the team at risk for muscle strains, sprains and back injuries. Using proper lifting techniques is one way to prevent injury. Have posters around the workshop and always be alert to poor technique – basically, a heavy load should be lifted/carried close to the body. If a colleague determines a load is too heavy to carry alone, they’ll ask for assistance, again using the correct technique at all times. It only takes one lapse to cause a lifetime of back pain.”
Slips are an even greater threat than lifting, with 29% of the non-fatal workplace injuries that led to absenteeism the result of a slip. This is based on the same 2018/19 HSE survey. A technician in a body shop is more susceptible than most due to materials they work with.
The very nature of vehicles and the equipment used to repair them could often increase the risk of slips and falls. These accidents can also cause broken bones, concussions, fractures, bruises and other injuries. Prevent these types of accidents by cleaning spills immediately, marking wet areas with clearly visible caution signs and keeping walkways free of clutter.
Wearing footwear with non-slip soles is another way to prevent slips and falls, so this is recommended during the PPE audits.
The correct training is critical to ensure that staff know how to safely use the equipment and tooling at their disposal. But so too is regular maintenance to prevent faulty and potentially dangerous malfunctions. Carry out regular maintenance and the relevant insurance checks on all lifting equipment, welding and other various tooling.
Have a reporting process within your maintenance schedule whereby if any equipment fails a check it will immediately be assessed for removal from service for repair or replacement. Everyone is advised of this process during induction and at regular intervals.”
For some body shop managers electrification is the issue that dare not speak its name. But they can’t bury their heads in the sand for long. More than half of all new vehicles are expected to be hybrid or electric within four years in the UK, while the National Grid has predicted there could be as many at 10.6 million EVs on UK roads by 2030, rising to 36 million by 2040.
Knowing how to safely repair them will be critical for any business that hopes to remain viable.
The first step is understanding that protective equipment is a necessary requirement. That includes gloves with an insulation performance of 1000V/300A or higher, insulated shoes or boots, insulated clothes, an insulated helmet if working beneath the car, and safety goggles or a face shield when disconnecting or reconnecting high voltage lines. The equipment should also include a meter capable of detecting voltage, with a range up to 1000V.
The second step is accepting that EV systems are updating all the time, meaning skills need to be updated as well.
There are a huge variety of electrification systems, but there isn’t even an international standard for the location of key components or the process of making them safe.
Unfortunately, the wait for technician licensing could be long, so we are left with a choice – act as professionals and do the right thing or sit on our hands. Honestly, the latter option is not really valid when one considers the potential danger and harm that may cause. We need to take care of ourselves and the people around us.
Of course, as with everything, prevention is always better – and cheaper – than cure. Health and safety regulations can be an annoyance, but they work. In 2018 fewer people in the UK lost their lives because of a work-related incident than any previous year on record.
But it’s an ongoing struggle. The number of workplace fatalities rose again last year, while five million working days were lost due to injuries sustained at work. The total cost of all absenteeism is estimated at £15bn a year, with employers paying upwards of £3bn a year.
Faced with those numbers, it’s clear that instilling and enforcing health and safety precautions is worth the time and effort.