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The Safe Shops Program began in 2004, following concerns about the way auto body and repair shops conducted their daily operational procedures. It was evident that there was a strong need to increase knowledge about how to properly and safely operate these businesses. In 2007, the program expanded to nail salons, a business sector that poses similar potential health hazards.

​​​Boston's auto shops and nail salon industries demonstrate the ways that health inequities play out in Boston. There are approximately 200 nail salons that are located throughout the city but are owned and staffed primarily by Vietnamese women, and more than 500 automotive shops, located in primarily low-income communities of color and staffed by majority Latino men. These industries are a source of both well-paying jobs and of potential hazardous exposures for employees and community members, disproportionately men and women of color.

Please call the Environmental Health Office at 617-534-5965 to learn more about the Safe Shops Program.

2004: Safe Shops Program Creation

In 2004, we began the Safe Shops Program with a focus on Boston's auto shops. We worked to establish partnerships with community groups and other city agencies, founded upon the principles of environmental health, enforcement, and community. While the Boston Public Health Commission has the ability and resources to develop educational materials and help workers and community members access resources, Boston's community groups and other city agencies remain assets to our work. Community groups can raise awareness within neighborhoods, conduct outreach with workers, refer them to the appropriate resources, and identify problem shops that need intervention. Enforcement partners (Inspectional Services Department) have the ability and experience to identify environmental and other violations. We continue to identify community and governmental partners.


Next, we identified auto shops in Boston, using the telephone book/yellow pages, ISD and Environmental Health Office records, sites identified by community partners during previous (EPA-funded) community mapping projects, and field observations by outreach workers, which continues to be our method today. We mapped clusters of shops throughout the city of Boston, as displayed in the map below:


To design the program, we asked our enforcement partners to nominate shop owners that might be interested in attending a focus group. We provided free dinner and gave each attendee a grocery store gift certificate as an incentive for attending. The questions centered on (1) what topics should be included in a training, (2) how people learn best (video, poster, handouts), and (3) how, where, and when trainings should be conducted. We then held a separate worker focus group at a community health center, to ensure that workers felt comfortable disclosing health concerns and because an immigrant workforce base might be more hesitant to come to a government building after work hours for any reason, even a "discussion."

Some key issues that surfaced from the focus groups include:

  • Training topics that should be covered.  These topics were used to design the 'Safe Shops Toolbox' which can be found here: 
  • Trainings should be around an hour in length and Spanish translation should be provided, if not conducted in English.
  • Shop owners and workers enjoyed the BPHC auto shop video.  This is projected on the wall during the training, and can be downloaded here:
  • Trainings should be held at the shop around meal times.  Lunch or coffee should be provided, if possible.

From this research, we developed the Safe Shops Program, which consists of outreach, training, and resource provision. For more information on our work with auto shops, click here.

2007: Nail Salons

We became aware of the need for outreach to nail salons through community members' concern over nail salon odors. Investigation into these odors indicated that nail salon products contain hazardous chemicals. In addition, we identified a need for education about sanitary best practices in nail salons. To expand the Safe Shops Program model to nail salons, we identified nail salon businesses in Boston and conducted additional review of products used in Boston's nail salons. We provided outreach to nail salons through distribution of the material safety data sheets (MSDS) of the 45 most common products to nail salons identified. We trained 30 community health care providers in recognizing work-related health issues for nail technicians, and made 5 salon referrals to a community partner that can provide child care and business development resources. We also began to train nail salons on best practices.​

In 2011, BPHC's environmental enforcement program began to regulate and permit nail salons, This increased the Safe Shops Program's utility in nail salons, to ensure nail salons were compliant with regulations. The Safe Shops Program continues to provide outreach to nail salons to ensure regulatory compliance and encourage best practices. For more information, click here.

2012: Green & Clean Program

With a 2011 EPA grant, the Safe Shops Program launched the Green & Clean business recognition program. The program recognizes auto shops, nail salons, and other small industries that go beyond basic environmental and sanitary standards to promote and protect worker and client safety, public health, and the environment. Click here to learn more about the Green & Clean Program, where you can also view a list of our participating businesses. 

 2017: Hair Salons

With a 2016 EPA Healthy Communities grant, the Safe Shops Program began working to expand their outreach to hair salons, particularly those salons providing services to women of color. Black women's hair in particular​ is embedded in a context of deep-rooted racism, which continues to this day to exert pressure on black women and girls to straighten or "relax" their hair. Many of the hair care products Black women use are filled with a mix of harmful chemicals and research indicates that these chemicals may be harmful to health, especially for those who work with these products every day as a part of their jobs. These products put salon workers at a disproportionate risk for poor health effects. Hair salon hazards are both direct occupational hazards and a symptom of environmental/social injustice that we are working to mitigate through our EPA grant. We conducted a needs assessment of hair salons in Boston, to better understand how the Safe Shops Program can best fill their needs, and now conduct regular outreach to Boston's hair salons. For more information, please click here.

​​If you would like to learn more about the Safe Shops Program, or if you own a nail salon or auto shop and would like to request a training from one of our outreach workers, please explore the tabs at the right of this page or contact the Environmental Health Office at 617-534-5965. Training is available in Vietnamese, Spanish, and English. ​

Boston Public Health Commission
1010 Massachusetts Ave, 6th Floor, Boston, MA 02118.
Phone:(617) 534-5395 Email: