Johan van Tilburg doesn't mind being on the losing end of an ongoing bet. As a matter of fact, the president and CEO of Tindell's Building Materials gambles every time he steps onto the grounds of the company's commodity center in Halls, Tenn. If he catches employee Stephen Hayes operating a forklift with his seatbelt buckled, van Tilburg pays him a dollar. If Hayes is unbuckled, van Tilburg is the victor.
Tindell's is one of a collection of dealers coast to coast that emphasizes safety, weighing its importance equally with sales.
Not everyone has safety foremost in their minds, or their wallets, however. With workers comp rates trending down, and many companies struggling to hit target sales goals, yard safety is an afterthought at some yards.
"It comes with the times. If [dealers] are covered up heavy in business, a lot of them don't do safety as well as they should," says Larry Marler, vice president of the Construction Suppliers Association in Smyrna, Ga. "But safety should be a habit."
Safe Enough? Despite improvements in technology, delivery techniques, and installed sales, among other facets of the LBM business, one can argue that safety has not improved enough.
Between 1995 and 1996, there were 50 fatalities in the LBM industry, according to the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics. A decade later, the numbers fell, but not by much, with 41 fatalities in 2005 and 2006 combined, the bureau reported.
Nonfatal LBM injuries and illnesses involving days away from work grew from 18,378 in 1995 to 19,937 in 1996, the bureau reported. The industry saw the number drop by more than two-thirds to 6,740 in 2005, but then it rose again, to 6,830, in 2006.
2008 began with one of the worst fatalities the industry has seen in years. Kevin Hrcka, the 13-year-old son of an employee at Miron Building Supply in Queens, N.Y., routinely visited the yard. On Jan. 19, as the father was changing out of his work clothes, the teen took an unattended forklift for a ride. The keys had been left in the ignition despite the forklift being parked for the day.
"Safety is on people's minds more, but they don't always follow through as well as they should," says Cindy Hartley, director of member relations for the Southern Building Materials Association, which sends out a bimonthly safety newsletter to its dealer-members. A recent mailing reminded dealers to keep their employees hydrated during the summer months. It's up to the dealer, however, to follow through, according to Hartley.
When it comes to embracing and promoting safety, the biggest obstacle dealers face is not having a single member of their personnel acting as an ambassador. "There are those who don't feel they have the time or money to spend on it," Marler says.