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.
In OSHA's investigation of the fire at the Alabama dealership, Carl Cannon Chevrolet- Buick-GMC in Jasper, the agency levied a $114,074 fine after it found that workers used a flammable brake wash to clean a service pit. The dealership did not respond to requests for comment.
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.
And serious injuries or a death will attract OSHA investigators to find the cause and often result in a fine, says Charlie Ayers, president of the Coordinating Committee for Automotive Repair. The committee partners with OSHA, the EPA and the U.S. Department of Transportation to provide online safety courses for repair shops and promote best environmental and safety practices.