Reining in your risk: A look at top risks for woodshops
By Kelly Sullivan

A year we won’t soon forget, 2020 was full of challenging surprises from a global pandemic and civil unrest to raging wildfires. These unprecedented events brought unheard of challenges not only to our health and safety but to our way of life. While we may not all agree on how things were handled, we can all likely agree on one thing when reflecting on the year: proper preparation for the unexpected is priceless.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the biggest risks facing woodshops in 2020 and discuss how the industry can take steps to protect their businesses in 2021 and beyond.

Taking a closer look at electrical safety

As safe and ubiquitous as electricity is at this point in history, it is probably no surprise that electrical issues present a significant risk to woodshop owners. Understanding, respecting, evaluating and adopting electrical safety standards and following safety guidelines can increase electricity awareness and help woodshop owners reduce their exposure to electrical risk.

Electricity is a recognized workplace hazard, exposing employees to the risk of electric shock, burns, and electrocution which could result in bodily harm, nerve damage or even death.  Nonetheless, we are seeing electrical exposures within companies that could easily be prevented before catastrophic losses and on-the-job-fatalities. Having a prior knowledge of guidance put in place by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) can help prepare, guide, govern and resolve any potential issues that may arise from electrical wiring and, in particular, temporary wiring and use of extension cords.

First, woodshop owners and employees should recognize that “temporary” should be just that when it comes to wiring and extension cords. Though preventative measures may seem financially aggressive and costly, after an incident, woodshop owners could be faced with employee or guest injuries and/or unimaginable damage.

When extension cords are improperly used, they can overheat and cause a fire. A major cause of that overheating is plugging in a higher-watt device than the cord is designed to handle. Extension cords that have not been properly inspected can potentially become safety hazards, cause equipment failure, fires and explosions in atmospheres where combustible dust, flammable gases and vapors are present. Lack of oversight in day-to-day operations and inadequate electrical knowledge contribute to those losses. When working with extension cords, woodshop owners should consider the following guidelines:

•    Do not use extension cords as permanent wiring.
•    Consider power strips in office settings with heavy computer use.
•    Power strips must be high quality and UL approved with a fuse/breaker.
•    Do not “daisy chain” power strips to provide more outlets.
•    Never run extension cords under carpet.

Continuous safety training and outside assistance can help prevent electrical loss and injury. OSHA standards to follow include the general industry electrical safety standards, Title 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 1910.302 through 1910.308. These standards are based on National Fire Protection Association Standards.

Operations and experiences change daily but letting our guard down tends to have a negative outcome. Key preventative practices for electrical safety should include:

•    Hazard identification
•    Regular employee training
•    Leadership buy-in to safety practices
•    Compliance

Driving risk – commercial auto

Vehicle fleets and driver behavior have long presented risks to the woodworking industry and those that insure it due to inexperienced and untrained drivers, distracted driving, as well as tricky delivery locations. Accidents can result in death, injury and costly damages. But commercial vehicles are critical to business – enabling product deliveries, sales and new inventory.

According to a recent report by MOTUS, 40 percent of automobile accidents are work-related. MOTUS found that employers lost nearly $57 billion as a result of auto crashes in 2017, the last year for which data are available.

Last year, we continued to see commercial auto claims rise within wood-related businesses and within the insurance industry as a whole. While purchasing comprehensive and quality insurance from an insurer who knows the wood niche is key to protecting your business from commercial auto-related risks, it’s also important to understand the risk and know how to mitigate your exposure. Fortunately, there are a number of steps woodshop owners can take to mitigate their driving and auto-related risks.

First, it is critical that woodshop owners develop and implement a comprehensive driver safety plan that includes guidance on employee training programs and requirements. In addition, the plan can address:

•    Specifically when drivers are allowed to use company vehicles.
•    Driver responsibilities in terms of safety and vehicle maintenance
•    How to conduct background checks on all drivers.
•    Distracted driving rules, policies and prevention guidelines, as well as disciplinary consequences for violating these policies.
•    Establishing accident reporting protocols and how to implement them.

Second, woodshop owners should consider using driver monitoring programs and telematics. Driver monitoring programs can report on driver behavior in real-time to help managers remove problem drivers from the road immediately. Driver-facing and road-facing dashboard cameras, telematics and electric logging devices can also be extremely helpful to help identify risky drivers and assist with driver training.

The third step we can’t emphasize enough. Comprehensive and regular defensive driving training can be key to the success of any commercial auto safety initiative. Supervisors should work with drivers to review basic driving rules and dangers related to distracted driving. Footage and data from telematics and cameras can be used to customize training. If telematics and cameras are not available, managers should periodically ride along with drivers.

Looking ahead
While we look forward to putting many of the events of 2020 behind us, let’s make an industry-wide effort to put these top risks behind us as well. With proper planning and a good insurance partner, wood shop owners can reduce their risk exposure to electrical issues and commercial auto. Once a plan is outlined, implementing these mitigation steps on a regular basis should become commonplace. Doing so will help business owners to ensure their facility has done what it can to stay safe and is prepared for whatever the future may hold.

Source: Kelly Sullivan is a Senior Loss Control Services representative for Pennsylvania Lumbermens Mutual Insurance Co. For information, visit; Twitter: @PLMinsurance.


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