Living on The Edge? The Top 4 Risks to an LBM Business
By Dan Braiman
Everyone likes to roll the dice once in a while—but on a
board game, not when it comes to protecting your business. Lumber and building
material dealers face a number of risks every day, risks that could cause
injury or death or bring down the business, if they were to become reality.
Fortunately, many of these can be prevented if the right steps are taken.
In this article, we look at the top four risks to business
owners in this industry and what they can do to mitigate their risk.
Risk 1: Commercial Auto
Getting behind the wheel is such a common task. Many of us
are in and out of the car several times a day—so many times, that we forget to
take simple safety precautions. Too often, we just turn the ignition and go,
failing to adjust mirrors, buckle a seatbelt or put away a cell phone. The same
sometimes holds true for commercial drivers.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that
roughly 40% of occupational fatalities resulted from a transportation incident.
Further, 10% of all highway deaths involve a large truck, according to the
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Sadly, the number seems to be growing,
as total deaths increased to 4,102 from 4,023 a year earlier.
Though trucks and cars are equipped with multiple automated
safety features, human error is always a threat, particularly in this business
where trucking is a regular part of operations. One glance at a cell phone or
sudden stop with improperly loaded cargo could cause a dangerous accident (for
which the business owner is held responsible). In fact, the National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration found that 94 percent of accidents in 2016 were
the result of “human choices.”
Taking steps to reduce risk exposure will not only help
lumber and building material dealers to avoid a costly accident, but also will
help to protect their drivers and innocent bystanders. To protect their businesses,
they should build a comprehensive commercial vehicle safety plan. This should
include a plan for hiring and maintaining safe drivers, required driver
reviews, regular Motor Vehicle Report (MVR) reviews, drug and alcohol
screenings, as well as regular training.
Further, this plan should lay out clearly for employees
company policy pertaining to:
driving, including eating, drinking, and cell phone use
• Personal use
of the vehicle
Risk 2: Loading and Unloading
Related to these vehicle accidents on the road is another
top risk exposure–loading and unloading.
Consider this scenario: A lumber and building material
dealer’s employee is operating a crane to raise trusses to a building’s roof.
With the movement of the crane, the load shifts and falls to the ground. A
couple of the trusses strike and seriously injure a construction crew member’s
An incident like this is not only tragic for the injured
worker, but costly for the lumber and building material dealer as a claim could
be filed for hundreds of thousands of dollars. To mitigate their risk exposure,
business owners should educate and train employees, and post signage.
Additionally, they should encourage those loading and unloading to follow a
securements are appropriate for the load.
• Check the
weight of the load.
• Check the
packing of the load.
• Double check
• Ensure wheel
chocks are in place.
driver has moved to safe area.
• Ensure no
damage or shifting of the load has occurred during the
• Check if
cargo is secured to a pallet or cradle.
• Use special
lifts when required.
Finally, in both loading and unloading situations, ensure
the area is free of traffic and power lines, and has sufficient lighting.
Risk 3: Forklift Safety
Though they can be much less intimidating than a flatbed
truck, forklifts can pose a significant risk to a lumber and building material
business as well if not properly operated. Accidents can occur due to loading
and unloading, decreased visibility, or inadequate employee training, among
To reduce their risk exposure when it comes to forklifts,
business owners should only use trained drivers. Managers have a responsibility
to make sure employees are properly trained and retrained as equipment changes
or new hazards enter the picture. Additionally, drivers should follow these
steps for safety:
• As mentioned
above, make sure the load is secure, and check
it repeatedly as it could shift in transit.
• Operate in
an open area away from others.
• Keep forks
as low as possible at all times when in transit.
• Operate the
vehicle at a speed no faster than 10 MPH. Avoid
sudden turns, and lower the forks before parking the
• Require a daily
inspection of the vehicle.
• Have safety
equipment on hand.
Risk 4: Slips and Falls
Finally, slips and falls continue to be one of the largest
risk exposures for retailers, and lumber and building material dealers are no
exception. If a vendor or customer slips on an icy patch on the business’s
walkway, that business owner could be held responsible for the injured person’s
medical costs and possibly more.
By law, business owners have a responsibilitly to maintain a
safe atmosphere for customers. To protect themselves, business owners should
keep a record of steps taken to reduce hazards inside and outside the business
premises and consider the following in an action plan:
• On an hourly
basis, have an employee survey the facility for spills
or other incidents that could pose a hazard for customers,
document the hazard, and repair it. Post a sign to warn
employees and customers.
• On a daily
basis, have an employee survey the outdoor area of the
facility, checking for ice and potholes among other
things. Rope off any hazards that cannot be fixed immediately,
and fix other issues immediately.
• Ensure the
records are meticulously kept so that in the case of a
lawsuit, the business will have a strong defense.
Tying It All Together
By understanding and staying on top of these and other risk
exposures, lumber and material dealers can reduce their risk of accidents,
while protecting their customers, employees, and revenue streams. Implementing
comprehensive safety and training programs, as well as new technologies where
appropriate, will help business owners arm their businesses against common risk
exposures, including accidents related to commercial driving, loading and
unloading, forklift usage, and slips and falls.
One of the best ways business owners can understand their
risk is to partner with an insurer that specializes in risks common to building
material dealers. A good insurer can not only assist in identifying risk
exposures, they can provide comprehensive insurance coverage and recommend risk
mitigation tools to stop preventable accidents from happening in the first
Dan Braiman is a loss control manager for Pennsylvania
Lumbermens Mutual Insurance Company. He has more than 14 years of loss control
experience in the wood industry.