Motor vehicle repair

Motor vehicle repair is a complex and challenging industry to work in. Motor vehicle repair encompasses three distinct sectors: mechanical repair, bodyshops and roadside repair. Each sector faces particular challenges when repairing vehicles safely.

Mechanical repair

Health and safety priorities for mechanical MVR

Most accidents in mechanical repair involve trips and falls or poor methods of lifting and handling often resulting in serious injury. Accidents involving vehicles are frequent and cause serious injuries and deaths every year. Work on petrol tanks in particular causes serious burns, hundreds of fires and some deaths each year.

Fire and explosion

Fires and explosions are major causes of deaths and property damage in MVR. Usually, they involve the mishandling of petrol, for example when draining fuel tanks and lines, but incidents have also occurred during ‘hot work’ repairs on vehicle diesel tanks and waste-oil storage tanks.


Plant and Equipment

When using lifting plant and equipment, including bottle/trolley jacks, axle stands you should:

  • use correct pins in axle stands
  • correctly position jacks and axle stands, and use chocks
  • never work beneath a vehicle supported only by a jack or jacks. It should be supplemented with appropriate stands, and the wheels of the vehicle still in contact with the ground should be chocked
  • ensure jacks and axle stands are regularly serviced, maintained, and where necessary, thoroughly examined

What is thorough examination?

A thorough examination is a systematic and detailed examination of the lifting equipment by a competent person to detect any defects that are, or might become, dangerous.

How often must lifting equipment and accessories be thoroughly examined?

Before using it for the first time – unless the equipment has an EC Declaration of Conformity less than one year old. If it was assembled on site, it must be examined by a competent person to establish the assembly was correct and safe,for example Two-Post Vehicle Lift.

If people work beneath a vehicle raised on a vehicle lift, a risk assessment of that work should conclude that six months between thorough examinations is appropriate and is the period recommended by BS 7980:2003.

Garage equipment such as trolley and bottle jacks should be regarded as lifting equipment, with thorough examination every 12 months.

Props to support tractor units and trailers on commercial vehicles

For grinding wheels, pedestal drills, compressors and other machinery you must ensure guards and other safety devices are maintained in good condition.  Use props as recommended by the manufacturer.

Welding fumes

Fume from welding, flame cutting and other ‘hot work’ varies greatly and may cause dryness of the throat, tickling, coughing, tightness of the chest and difficulty in breathing. Long term changes in the lungs are possible. Harmful fumes and gases during welding in MVR include those from primer and paint layers, other surface coatings such as underseal, and from lead in car bodies.

Use local exhaust ventilation for example mobile extraction unit with flexible exhaust hood and trunking, wherever possible and always in confined spaces.

Tyre removal, replacement and inflation/deflation

Tyre removal, replacement and inflation should only be tackled by competent staff. The main hazards which can arise include:

  • manual handling injuries, which account for nearly a half of all tyre-related incidents reported
  • tool-related injuries (which make up a quarter of incidents), particularly from hand tools such as tyre levers 
  • compressed-air accidents for example from a ruptured or burst tyre or violent separation of the component parts of the wheel. These accidents tend to result in serious injuries, including fatalities

Body shops

There is widespread potential for work-related ill health in MVR body shops. Many of the substances used require careful storage, handling and control. Isocyanate-containing paints have, for many years, been the biggest cause of occupational asthma in the UK and the industry is also in the top 10 for cases of disabling dermatitis.

Vehicle paint spraying and occupational asthma

Paints containing isocyanate are used extensively in MVR. Isocyanates are found in most vehicle coatings even in some ‘water-based' paints. Remember, 'water-based' does not necessarily mean 'isocyanate-free'. Spraying produces the highest exposures and is the main cause of occupational asthma. MVR paint sprayers have an 80 times higher risk of getting asthma compared with the UK working population. Every year over 50 sprayers are diagnosed with isocyanate asthma and most have to leave the industry. Below are some key tips for vehicle paint sprayers and owners of motor vehicle repair body shops.

COSHH essentials for motor vehicle repair

This series of information sheets will help motor vehicle repair practitioners to comply with their duties under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2003 (as amended) to control exposure to hazardous substances and protect workers' health.

The sheets describe good practice when carrying out a range of common MVR tasks

Roadside repair

Protection of workers and members of the public from traffic risks on public roads is mostly a matter for road traffic law, which is enforced by the Police and other Agencies. However, existing health and safety legislation requires employers and self-employed persons to protect workers and safeguard others put at risk by their work activities. For example:

  • safe systems of work should be devised to ensure the safety of workers and the occupants of vehicles being recovered/repaired
  • vehicles and/or attachments for example winches, cranes may be subject to health and safety legislation, particularly those parts not covered by MOT examinations

Essential precautions

Ensure that 

  • all risks, particularly from other road users, have been properly assessed and safe systems for working at the roadside prepared
  • vehicles and equipment of an appropriate standard are provided and maintained
  • appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for example high visibility/weatherproof clothing; footwear; gloves, is provided and used
  • employees have been adequately trained by a competent trainer to work safely at the roadside and to advise the occupants of casualty vehicles on the precautions they should be taking.

Repair or recovery of buses and coaches fitted with air suspension

For many years, passenger service vehicles (PSVs) have been fitted with rubber bellows (also known as airbags) supplied with air from the vehicle's air compressor. These allow the height to be varied to suit certain needs, for example lowering the step for improved access.

Vehicle ground clearance can suddenly and unexpectedly change due to a drop in air pressure. This presents crushing and trapping hazards to technicians recovering or repairing vehicles, especially if working beneath them.

In addition, recovery of casualty PSVs can be made more difficult because of reduced ground clearance. Comprehensive guidance is available from the HSE website at the following link:

Automotive glazing

Repair and replacement of glazing is extremely common and often carried out away from the company premises so instruction and training are key factors to safe working.

Particular hazards include:

  • cuts from broken glass or cutting tools. Long knives are responsible for numerous serious accidents, use a safer alternative
  • manual handling injuries (commercial vehicle and public service vehicle glazing can weigh up to 100 kg, and access to the windscreen area of the vehicle can be difficult)
  • working at height
  • contact with hazardous chemicals for example sealants
  • environmental hazards (working at the roadside, adverse weather etc)



Key legislation

Please note that these links are to the original legislation, visitors should verify for themselves whether legislation is in force or whether it has been amended or repealed