The Safe Shops Project was set up to address the occupational and environmental health hazards of small automotive body and repair shops located throughout Boston's residential neighborhoods. The project is targeted to reach workers, owners, and neighbors of automotive repair shops. These shops provide an important source of employment and income in the community, but also represent a potential source of exposure to hazardous chemicals for their workers and neighbors.
The goal of the project is to protect auto shop workers, owners, and neighbors from occupational and environmental health hazards associated with these businesses. This overall goal will be achieved through four objectives.
The first objective of the project is to insure that all auto shop businesses in the city of Boston are in compliance with all relevant federal, state, and local regulations governing their operation including regulations on waste storage and disposal, insurance regulations, city permits, etc.
The second objective is to educate workers and owners about the health risks found in auto shops and the appropriate steps (engineering controls, personal protective equipment, etc.) they must take to protect themselves.
The third objective of the project is to provide resources to the shops and their employees to protect worker health and bring the business into compliance with regulations.
The fourth objective of the project is to raise community awareness and involvement with the issue of pollution sources in the neighborhoods.
Through these, neighborhood residents learn about the Safe Shops Project, what to look for in their communities, and what to do if they have concerns about neighborhood businesses.
The public health issues addressed by this project are hazardous air quality from exposure to solvents and other organic vapors in paints, thinners, parts cleaners, and other products; dermal exposure to toxic chemicals through improper handling, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste or lack of protective equipment for specific jobs; and other physical and environmental hazards of those working in small auto repair and body shops. This project also addresses public health support needs of shop employees through assistance with access to health care resources and protects the surrounding residents by preventing/reducing the release of hazardous pollution from auto shop businesses. This program grew out of the BPHC’s community-identified mission to eliminate racial and economic health disparities. Over the years, the BPHC has responded to numerous community complaints about environmental hazards created by small automotive shops located in residential neighborhoods – often low income communities of color. During such enforcement responses, BPHC identified the need for a systematic approach to helping shops improve their operations to protect the health of their workers and neighbors. The Safe Shops Project was created to do this by building on past work of community partners in the area.
Though our project builds on previous work and no formal process was used to confirm that it is completely unique in the field of public health, we have reasonable evidence to believe that it is innovative and new to the field. This includes an extensive literature review of existing practices that did not reveal any interventions matching ours. Additionally, the project’s CDC contacts have stated that, while they have seen field education programs before, this is the first time they have seen a project combine worker education, regulatory enforcement, and economic/business development assistance as tools to affect environmental health changes. Many aimed at pollution prevention have used outreach workers to educate workers and owners of businesses to encourage behavior change that will result in improved public health and pollution reduction.
However, our project is different in that it combines other aspects to successfully impact population change. The project crosses the divide between enforcement and education activities by bringing city enforcement agencies and inspectors into the project as partners rather than just as a tool for negative reinforcement – they encourage training and provide ad-hoc education rather than going directly to fines and other ‘punishments’. An additional innovative component is the project’s inclusion of economic support and technical assistance. Though we do not provide funds directly to shops, the project connects auto shops with which we work to partners who provide technical assistance to the business to improve its creditability and help the shop owners access low interest loans specifically for the purpose of making needed engineering improvements to the shop to reduce pollution and protect worker health – install a paint spray booth, upgrade ventilation, etc. The important distinction here is that this is assistance in securing loans, not simply a standard unsupported referral to a financial institution.
Agency Community RolesThe Safe Shops Project is a broad-based collaboration between the Boston Public Health Commission, community partners, city agencies, and businesses. In fact, without the participation of this broad cross section of partners, the project would not be possible. Partners on the project include the Boston Public Health Commission (including the Environmental Health Office, Public Health Van, Mayor’s Health Line, and other programs), the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH – an occupational health advocacy and training organization), Bowdoin Street Community Health Center, Joseph Smith Community Health Center, Allston/Brighton Healthy Boston Coalition (a community advocacy organization), Nuestra Communidad (a community development corporation), Boston Inspectional Services Department (city regulatory agency in charge of inspecting shops for regulatory compliance), Boston Department of Neighborhood Development (city economic development agency), individual auto shops and their owners/employees who have sought out the program.
Costs and ExpendituresStart-up/implementation costs of about $200,000 per year cover two full-time staff positions, printing educational materials, approximately $60,000 in sub-contracts to community partners, and other expenses. In-kind support of about $60,000 to $100,000 annually in the form of Boston Public Health Commission infrastructure and staff support, management staff time, information technology/data management support, computer resources, mailing, etc.
ImplementationThe four core components of the project are shop/worker assessment visits, in-shop education, provision of resources, and community outreach. Shop/worker assessment is done through two visits to each auto shop. The first is by city inspectional staff partnered with the project who review the shop’s compliance with federal, state, and local regulations and collect data on an assessment form about the shop’s needs. The second visit is conducted by a pair of outreach workers from the BPHC and/or community partner organizations. These outreach workers talk with shop staff and conduct a worker survey on knowledge of workplace hazards, health status, and resources needed. Both these survey visits are repeated following the shop training and are used as teaching/reinforcement opportunities as well as for data collection.
After a shop has been visited, a health educator and outreach worker from the program visit the shop to conduct a “tailgate training”. These trainings are held in each shop, last about an hour and a half, and are usually done in the early morning so as not to interfere with business. The training covers best practices for common shop jobs, personal protective equipment, right to know information, hazardous materials storage/disposal issues, and general shop housekeeping/safety issues. Additional education is provided to shop owners/workers about permit, regulatory, and bookkeeping issues.
To support behavior changes and shop improvements advocated by the training, the project follows up with each shop by providing supporting resources. In addition to educational materials (videos, posters, booklets, etc.) this includes arranging for a visit from the Public Health Van to conduct free worker health screenings, referrals to health care and free health insurance coverage, and assistance to the business owner from a community financial partner on accessing low-interest business improvement loans or better financial management. Community outreach/education is done through health fairs, presentations at community organization meetings, and special events organized by the project’s community partners.
Goal: To protect auto shop workers, owners, and neighbors from occupational and environmental health hazards associated with automotive businesses.
Objective: Bring all shops visited into compliance with federal, state, and local regulations governing business operations and occupational/environmental health issues:
Performance measures: Number of shops visited by inspectors during first two years (goal=250 shops); provide education during inspection to all shops on regulations; all shops visited will be in regulatory compliance by follow-up visit.
Data collection: Permit status (presence or absence of valid permits) collected during shop inspections by city inspectors using paper checklists or Palm-based electronic checklists.
Outcomes (long-term): 1) Data received by Inspectional Services and BPHC; 2) Identified status of shops with regards to regulatory compliance; 3) Removed over 200 shops from the initial list of target shops as they did not exist - list out of date.
Objective: Educate auto shop workers and owners about how to identify and protect themselves from occupational and environmental health hazards on the job:
Performance measures: 1) All owners and workers of visited shops attend a tailgate training; 2) All workers/owners complete initial and 6-month follow-up health survey; 3) Improved knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs about shop health hazards indicated on follow-up survey; 4) Number of shops showing changes in work practices to include better use of engineering controls and personal protective equipment. Target numbers are estimated 600 auto shops and 1,800 shop workers in the city.
Data collection: 1) Data was worker health surveys, training attendance lists, and work practices observations; 2) Data collected by outreach workers from BPHC and community partners; 3) Collected by training sign-in sheets, worker surveys on Palm/paper, and observation of shops during visits.
Outcome (long-term): 1) Data received by BPHC; 2) Still collecting sufficient data to draw conclusions; 3) Data collection methods altered slightly to ease analysis.
Objective: Create an intervention template that can be applied to a variety of other businesses that face similar occupational and environmental health issues:
Performance measures: Performance measure will be successful development of a final report and "project kit" for the funding agency and dissemination of the model at professional conferences and in professional publications.
Data collection: No data collected yet.
Outcome (long-term): N/A
There is a significant degree of stakeholder commitment to the Safe Shops Project as it is built on existing community needs, past intervention attempts by the partners individually, and a combination of existing resources. Commitment is ensured because environmental inspection of shops by BPHC and the Inspectional Services Department will continue regardless of funding as it is part of their mission and because the community partners will continue to provide health resources and economic technical assistance to small businesses in the community as needed as part of their ongoing work. A variety of available resources will be leveraged to insure that the project continues beyond the initial federal funding.
These resources include the city’s current inspection staff, the Department of Neighborhood Development’s agreement to investigate setting up a fund to provide subsidized loans to shops for pollution prevention improvements, health care resources form community health centers, and existing support resources of the BPHC already provided to the project as in-kind support to the grant. Finally, we will continue to seek grant funding from a variety of sources to continue and expand the project and we will encourage our community partners to similarly seek grant funding (individually and in collaboration with the rest of the project partners) to support their work.