BACKGROUND: In the United States, approximately 236,000 people work in 37,600 auto collision-repair businesses. Workers in the collision-repair industry may be exposed to a wide range of physical and chemical hazards. METHODS: This manuscript examines the relationship of safety climate as reported by collision repair shop workers and owners to: (1) an independent business safety assessment, and (2) employee self-reported work practices. The study was conducted in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. RESULTS: A total of 199 workers from 49 collision shops completed a survey of self-reported work practices and safety climate. Surveys were completed by an owner or manager in all but three shops. In general, self-reported work practices were poor. Workers' scores on safety climate were uniformly lower than those of owners. For workers, there was no correlation between how well the business scored on an independent audit of business safety practices and the safety climate measures they reported. For owners, however, there was a positive correlation between safety climate scores and the business safety assessment. For workers, safety rules and procedures were associated with improved work practices for those engaged in both painting-related and body technician-related activities. CONCLUSIONS: The enforcement of safety rules and procedures emerged as a strong factor positively affecting self-reported work practices. These findings identify a simple, cost effective path to reducing hazards in small workplaces.