BACKGROUND: About 223,000 people are employed in approximately 34,500 auto collision repair businesses. In general, employees and owners in these establishments lack knowledge of health and safety practices and do not have the technical expertise to make their place of work safer. METHODS: Three employee and three owner focus groups were conducted. The goal of these focus groups was to characterize health and safety beliefs of owners and employees and to determine the best methods for motivating safety improvements in collision repair shops. RESULTS: A total of 11 owners and 19 workers participated in these focus groups. Employees and owners were aware of a wide range of hazards. Both groups noted difficulty in staying informed. Employers were hesitant to set and enforce safety and health rules. Employees perceive owners to be unwilling to dedicate the resources to make the workplace safer and provide personal protective equipment. Both groups felt insurance reimbursement practices placed undue pressure on employees. CONCLUSIONS: Focus groups provide important insights into intervention development in very small enterprises in general and auto collision shops in specific. Employers were conflicted about allowing employees a certain level of independence while also maintaining a safe workplace. From the employee perspective, owners frequently fail to provide adequate personal protective equipment and make improvements needed to ensure safe work. The unique managerial needs of very small enterprises must be accounted for if health and safety programs are to be implemented in these establishments.