Taylor Lumber and Hardware Co. in Marshfield, Mass., has a staff of 24 full-and part-time employees. CEO Rick Taylor, who has worked at the store for 45 of the company's 60 years, knows every one of them by name. To say that these people are like family to him is an understatement.

The one thing Taylor never, ever wants to do as owner of the company is go to the spouse or parents of one of his workers and tell them that their loved one won't ever come home from work. “Oh man, I don't even want to think about that,” says Taylor, who serves on the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association's (NLBMDA) newly formed safety subcommittee of the Risk Management Committee.

When Taylor looks at his company's yard, he does it with an eye toward providing the safest workplace possible. No one operates one of his four forklifts without training. The same goes for the propane filling station. When winter weather approaches, his thoughts turn to preventing ice build-up, which can make it easy for people to slip and fall. When the staff meets monthly after work to train on new products, safety is part of the conversation, and Taylor springs for pizza to thank them for sticking around at the end of a long day.

To him, it's just part of the responsibility of owning a business. Safety experts say that it's a perfect example of where any safety program has to start. OSHA looks for management commitment in programs and so do underwriters when they're deciding whether or not to insure a dealer.

“You need to have the buy-in from upper management. That's crucial,” says Margery Young, senior loss control technical specialist for Meadowbrook/TPA Associates in Andover, Mass., which administers the Self-Insured Lumber Businesses Association, the insurance group of which Taylor Lumber and Hardware is a member. “The top people in the company have to be involved and give their blessing.”

Walk the Talk Safety pros like Young report that the companies doing the best job of reducing accidents are those that make safety part of the company culture, right along with quality, customer satisfaction, performance, and profitability.

At Grand Rapids, Mich.–based Universal Forest Products, a manufacturer and distributor of wood and wood-alternative products, creating that type of environment took some time, says Kim Hildebrand, senior manager of employee risk services. It's no wonder, given that the company has 9,000 employees in 96 locations across 26 states. But logistics was just part of the issue. When she joined the company in the mid-1990s, she says safety was considered little more than a necessary evil. “There's an attitude that's inherent in the lumber industry and manufacturing that if you don't go home with an aching back, you didn't work hard enough, and that accidents happen,” she says. “I had to change that.”

Her presentation to senior management to institute a safety program was filled with charts and graphs showing the bottom-line impact of the savings the company could achieve. It got their attention, she says, but what drove the culture change was tapping into the compassion the company's management has for the employees. “Their primary concern is, ‘How are our people?'” she says. “When executives started getting information on injuries, things started to change.”

The Universal executive team decided “safety would be something we do, not just something we say. It would become part of who we are,” she says. “ .... Once that happened, my job totally changed. I was overwhelmed by it. It went from ‘How do I convince people to do it?'to ‘What do we need to do and how do we make it happen?'”

Both OSHA and insurers say you need a written safety program that's more than just a binder that sits on a shelf gathering dust. In addition to management commitment, that written safety program should have employee involvement, worksite analysis, hazard prevention and control, and safety and health training, says Ron Koons, co-owner of Middletown, Ind.–based RoSaKo Safety, a safety consultant who frequently works with NLBMDA and its members.