The National Safety Council (NSC) has designated June National Safety Month, making it the perfect time for you to take a look at overall workplace safety issues, which we all know are becoming more and more critical for lumber and building material dealers, especially as OSHA's watchful eye continues to fix its gaze on the industry.

Over the past several months, we've been talking to dealers about ways to improve safety through training and committed company-wide programs in preparation for next month's cover story, which will focus on the vital aspects of designing an effective safety program. In the meantime, I wanted to focus your attention on a few sobering statistics about U.S. workplace safety, not only to reinforce the importance of creating a safe work environment, but also to emphasize the impact of worker injuries and illnesses on your bottom line.

According to the most recent data available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4.4 million nonfatal injuries and illnesses were reported in private industry workplaces in 2003, which equates to five cases for every 100 full-time workers. Approximately 2.3 million cases resulted in days away from the job, a job transfer, or restricted job duties. Additionally, in its 2004 annual report, NSC points out that 4,500 of the 100,000-plus people nationwide who died from preventable injuries in 2003 were on the job when the accidents occurred. Drilling down even further, of those 4,500 deaths, 2,000 were the result of a motor vehicle collision.

Government statistics indicate that there were 408,300 recordable cases of nonfatal injuries and illnesses in the construction industry in 2003. Building material dealers classified under NAICS 444190, which includes retail lumberyards and specialty distributors, reported more than 18,000 cases, while the broader NAICS category 4441 (building material and supplies dealers) had a total of 62,100.

That's a lot of numbers. Sometimes just rattling them off doesn't mean very much or properly put into context the daily impact safety-related problems can have on companies in this country. So I dug further and found a compilation of statistics published at the end of April by MMWR, a weekly publication of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that puts the magnitude of the situation into a more hard-hitting perspective:

“On average, in the United States, nearly 11,000 workers are treated in emergency departments each day, and approximately 200 of these workers are hospitalized. An estimated 6,300 private-sector workers require time away from their jobs, 15 workers die from their injuries, and 134 die from work-related diseases. These losses account for nearly $73 billion in workers' compensation.”

If that doesn't make you sit back and think about how the lack of a formalized safety program can impact your workforce and bottom line, I don't know what will. I was having trouble swallowing the number $73 billion myself, so I found the source, a report published by the National Academy of Social Insurance in August 2004. It documents that employer costs for workers' comp, measured by insurance costs, totaled $72.9 billion in 2002, a 13 percent increase over 2001. Total workers' compensation benefit payments in 2002 came to $53.4 billion.

Even if higher insurance costs haven't gotten you yet, hefty fines certainly might. Between Jan. 1, 2000, and May 10 of this year, OSHA conducted 679 inspections at companies in NAICS 444190, and inspections will continue. If you want to take measures to keep OSHA from knocking on your door, make sure you have a comprehensive, documented safety program in place and take advantage of training resources, such as videos and teleconferences offered by NLBMDA. Not only will it save you money in the long run, most importantly it will help provide workers with a healthy and safe workplace.

Editor's note: For more information on NLBMDA's “The Forklift and You” video safety training program and an upcoming delivery safety video, visit