Auto Body Shops Pollution Prevention Guide

#4 - Housekeeping

Good housekeeping practices in an auto body shop can include:

  • Modifying the way you purchase raw materials
  • Improving the way you keep track of your inventory
  • Reducing the amount of materials in storage
  • Using first in, first out policy for any stockpiled supplies
  • Regularly inspecting storage area for spills, leaks, etc.
  • Placing equipment in convenient locations within the facility
  • Reducing, reusing, or recycling used materials to avoid generating unnecessary waste

The following questions help explain good housekeeping techniques and will help you develop ways of preventing pollution in your shop.


An auto body shop can save money up-front by watching what is purchased.

Purchasing YES NO
1) Do you buy only as much material as you need to get a job done? By purchasing only as much as needed you can reduce spoilage of expired materials, save storage space, and encourage the wise use of materials.    
2) Do you buy materials in bulk form? Bulk materials are generally cheaper than individual containers and produce less packaging waste as long as the materials are used before they expire.    
3) Do you purchase less hazardous products? Switching to less hazardous products will reduce hazardous waste disposal costs and minimize employee chemical exposure. Review the product's label and its Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) to help in the selection process.    
4) Are you purchasing products made with recycled materials? Products made from recycled materials, such as paper towels and toilet paper, save on virgin materials and energy. . .
5) Do you receive or ship goods in reusable containers? Reusable containers can reduce waste disposal costs, save landfill space, and save natural resources. Ask your supplier to deliver your goods on reusable pallets and crates, and pick them up for reuse when you are done with them.    
6) Do you purchase reusable materials? Reusable materials, such as coffee mugs and towels, last longer and save money -- no need to buy new products and pay to dispose of the used ones.    
7) Do you purchase materials that are recyclable? Recycling scrap steel, aluminum cans, glass, paper, etc., can lower disposal costs, save raw materials and energy, and generate some revenue from the sale of recyclables.    
8) Do you purchase water-conserving equipment? Water-conserving equipment, such as low-flow toilets, can help reduce your monthly water bills, conserve local water supplies, and conserve energy.    
9) Do you buy energy-efficient equipment? Energy-efficient equipment, such as compact fluorescent lamps, use less energy, last longer than conventional lamps, and can reduce your monthly energy bills and disposal bills.    

Inventory Control

Inventory control involves keeping track of when materials come in your door and when they are used. The benefits include:

  • Less chance of accidentally ordering more than is needed
  • Less waste produced due to the expiration of materials
  • Lower purchasing and waste disposal bills

Inventory Control YES NO
1) Do you have a computerized inventory system? Computers can help track the amount and age of materials.    
2) Do you use materials on a first in, first out basis? By using materials that came into your shop first, you can help reduce the possibility of expired shelf life or obsolescence.    
3) Do you accept free samples? Be wary -- they may turn out to be hazardous and you may get stuck with the responsibility of proper disposal.    
4) Do you test out-of-date items before disposing of them? Expiration dates are just estimates. Often the product is still good long after the labeled date. Find out if the expired or obsolete materials can be returned to the supplier.    

Safety And Training

Running an autobody shop involves taking risks. Shop owners take chances to remain competitive. But some risks are not worth the gamble. One such risk relates to the safety and health of employees. Exposing employees to hazards is a dangerous game with serious consequences. There are specific state and federal regulations designed to make a safer working environment. They include:

  • Chemical Hazard Communication Standards - focuses on educating personnel on work hazards and how to protect themselves.
  • Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Standards - protects employees who work with hazardous waste.
  • Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act - establishes requirements for industry and government agencies regarding emergency planning and "community right-to-know" reporting on hazardous chemicals.
Chemical Hazard Communication Standards (CHCS)
Chemical exposure may cause or contribute to many serious health effects such as heart ailments, lung damage, sterility, cancer, and burns. Some chemicals may also have the potential to cause fires and explosions and other serious accidents. Because of the severity of these health and safety problems and because many employers and employees know little or nothing about them, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a rule called the Chemical Hazard Communication Standards (CHCS). The basic goals of the standard are to be sure employers and employees know about work hazards and how to protect themselves in order to reduce the incidence of chemical source illness and injuries. The CHCS establishes uniform requirements to make sure that the hazards of all chemicals imported into, produced by, or used in U.S. workplaces are evaluated, and that this hazard information is transmitted to all personnel (Chemical Hazard Communication, 1992). Hazard information can be passed on through:
  • Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs)
  • Labels on containers
  • Training
Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) Standards
The dumping of hazardous waste poses a significant threat to the environment and human health. Improperly disposed of hazardous waste (discarded chemicals that are toxic, ignitable, corrosive, or reactive) can cause fires or explosions and result in the pollution of air, water, and land. To help protect employees working with hazardous waste, OSHA issued the HAZWOPER standards. The standard covers workers in cleanup operations at uncontrolled hazardous waste sites and at EPA-licensed Treatment, Storage, and Disposal (TSD) Facilities. Workers responding to emergencies involving hazardous materials, such as leaks or spills, are also covered by this standard (Hazardous Waste and Emergency Response, 1992).Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) To help states, communities, and larger businesses improve chemical safety and protect public health and the environment, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established EPCRA. There are four major parts of EPCRA:
  • Emergency planning at state and community level - Businesses that have extremely hazardous substances above the EPA designated threshold planning quantities may be required to take part in their community's emergency planning process.
  • Emergency notification of chemical accidents - Businesses must immediately notify national, state, and local emergency response groups in the event that a hazardous chemical is accidentally released above reportable quantities (ranges from one pound to 10,000 pounds depending on the chemical).
  • Community right-to-know reports regarding hazardous chemicals - Businesses that have extremely hazardous substances above specific threshold values on-site must submit detailed information to community and state planning groups.
  • Toxic chemical release reporting to the public - Businesses are required to report the type and amount of toxic chemical releases that occur from their facility.

Safety And Training YES NO
1) Does your shop have an education-based safety training program?    
2) Does your shop provide job safety training prior to letting employees work unsupervised?    
3) Does your shop offer refresher safety training?    
4) Do you have a safety awareness program in place?    
5) Have you ever done a hazard assessment or audit? At least once a year, it is a good idea to walk through your shop to identify unsafe work practices or conditions and document any corrective actions taken.    
6) Are you and your co-workers trained to use hazardous materials safely and properly? Safety training will help educate everyone as to what is being used in your shop and how to use it properly. This will also cover the employer's liability if a hazardous situation arises.    
7) Do you have current Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) for all chemicals used in your auto body shop? According to OSHA, businesses must have current MSDSs for each material used. Keep MSDSs in an area where you and your co-workers have access to and may examine them, such as in a three-ring binder in the break room.    
8) Do you have an emergency plan to follow? To protect the health and welfare of you and your co-workers, you should have an emergency plan that discusses the steps that have to be followed in case of an emergency. Don't forget to train everyone on how to follow the plan.    
9) Do you have warning signs and safety equipment in a convenient and accessible location? You may need to have eye washes, first-aid kits, safety manuals, goggles, etc., on-site, depending on the materials used in your shop. Be sure all employees know where the safety equipment is stored and how to use them. For more information, review the product's Material Safety Data Sheet.    

Material Use And Storage

A simple (and inexpensive) way to help create a safer work environment and prevent pollution is to use and store materials and wastes properly. Waste can be produced unnecessarily by raw materials stored improperly or contaminated by other materials.

Material Use And Storage YES NO
1) Do you follow manufacturers' instructions when using materials? To prevent waste and accidents, read and follow product instructions carefully. Use caution when mixing chemicals -- make sure they are compatible.    
2) Have all employees been trained to use hazardous materials properly? Training on the proper use of hazardous materials can help prevent accidents, reduce waste, lower workers' compensation claims, and reduce your liability.    
3) Have you posted signs warning employees of the potential hazards found in a room? Signs, such as "respirators required," outside rooms where hazardous materials are used can help prevent accidents and assist emergency workers.    
4) Do you try to keep lids closed? By keeping lids closed, you can prevent the loss of a product due to evaporation or spills, and reduce employee exposure to chemicals.    
5) Do you use materials in aerosol containers? If possible, avoid purchasing materials in aerosol containers. They can pose a health hazard, generate a lot of waste (both the can itself and the material left in the can), and may contain potentially hazardous propellant. Check with your supplier for compressed-air or pump rechargeable dispensers that can be refilled and reused.    
6) If you use refillable containers to dispense bulk materials, are they labeled? Be sure all containers in your facility are clearly and accurately labeled to prevent misuse of a material.    
7) Are all containers labeled? Labeling all containers, including waste containers, can prevent costly mistakes if the wrong chemicals are used or mixed together.    
8) Do you check containers for leaks or spills? Check containers regularly to clean up leaks and spills as soon as possible to reduce employee exposure to chemicals. It also prevents the needless waste of materials.    
9) Is there discoloration or corrosion on walls, work surfaces, ceilings, walls, or pipes? This may indicate system leaks or poorly maintained equipment that could be causing you to waste raw materials.    
10) Do you routinely perform maintenance on all equipment? A good maintenance program will prolong the life of your equipment, make the equipment run more efficiently, and create a safer environment.    
11) Do you have leftover, usable materials you no longer want? If you have unwanted, but usable materials, find another business that could use them.    
12) Do you store materials and wastes indoors? Some materials/wastes, such as flammable liquids, could be stored outdoors to reduce fire danger. Check with your local fire department, Fire Marshal's office, or Disaster and Emergency Services for more details.    
13) Do you store materials and wastes in covered areas? A covered storage area is important because rain water can increase your waste volume or contaminate usable materials. Exposure to sunlight can change the characteristics of certain materials or dangerously raise the pressure inside sealed containers. Keep individual containers closed to prevent evaporation, spills, or contamination.    
14) Do you store materials and wastes in a locked area? Unscrupulous individuals can deposit hazardous wastes in unlocked containers, increasing your disposal costs. Vandals could also spill wastes or injure themselves. Remember, you are responsible for what happens at your shop.    
15) Do you store materials and wastes on a hard surface? To prevent endangering human health and the environment, it is very important to contain any spills or leaks from your auto body shop. A concrete pad with a recessed floor area or dike has been found to contain spills effectively.    
16) Are different waste types stored separately? Mixing a hazardous waste with other wastes can make the whole container hazardous. Check the products' Material Safety Data Sheets to ensure incompatible materials and wastes are not mixed or stored together.    
17) Do you store large quantities of hazardous wastes on-site? Storage times and accumulation quantities of hazardous waste vary depending upon your generator size. For more information, contact your local Fire Marshal, or your local Disaster and Emergency Services.    
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