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Wind and Hail Losses: How Lumber Businesses and Building Material Dealers Can Manage this Rising Risk

When you consider a risk exposure threatening a lumber business or building material dealer, you likely initially think of dangerous machinery, fires or even distracted drivers. These problems have prompted safety concerns in the lumber space for decades. One risk that may not come to mind as prominently would be the wind and hail incidents we’ve seen grow in frequency and severity in recent years.

Last year at Pennsylvania Lumbermen’s Mutual Insurance Company (PLM) we noted a roughly 200% increase in claims related to wind and hailstorms. These spikes were most noticeable in Texas, Iowa, Kansas and Illinois, but were found across a wide range of industry businesses. Such storms can put the business, staff members, and customers at risk.

What can the industry do better to navigate this growing threat? Understanding the various exposures at play and emphasizing risk mitigation are important places to start.

A Typical Loss

In the summer of 2023, we saw one storm lead to losses for different clients across Missouri and Illinois. Unfortunately, the losses from this storm illustrate what are becoming typical loss cases. The storm was so severe that it spanned the geographic distance between the two states and both facilities suffered heavy damage. Debris from the wind and hail collided with several major structures and damaged the roofs of the buildings. Because one insured had not performed regular roof maintenance, the weight of the hail and strength of the debris caused significant damage to render the roof ineffective. Due to supply chain issues in the industry, there were also delays in securing replacement parts to start the repair process, leading to temporary business shutdowns at both facilities.

It is important to understand the full scope of damage wind and hail incidents can cause for lumber and building material businesses, including damage to:

  • Roofs: Wind and hail loads can cause roof collapses. This is the most frequent concern we see in industry businesses. A collapsed roof frequently leads to lengthy business interruption, in addition to expensive repair and replacement costs.
  • Roads: Often, we see insureds opt not to perform thorough road and parking lot cleaning and maintenance both ahead of and after storms. This runs the risk of creating dangerous driving and walking conditions for customers, which can lead to costly claims.
  • Debris: Severe wind can cause any unsecured components on a property, such as trees on the property, loose pallets and more, to fly and potentially collide with critical structures.

As roofing issues tend to be the most significant driver of safety claims caused by wind and hailstorms, it is important to have a comprehensive safety program in place to mitigate them. Such safety programs start with a roof load checklist.

The Roof Load Checklist

A roof load checklist outlines important items to consider pertaining to roof safety, both before and after a storm. Two important factors to consider in advance of a weather event include:

  • Roof Access and Inspection: Hail and subsequent water could collect on your roof during and after a storm. Beforehand, consider what safety systems you may need in place to ensure employees can safely access the roof without striking any hazards, slipping or falling, or putting themselves at risk. Similarly, as employees remove ice, hail, water or snow, ensure there is a system in place so that people below are not at risk.
  • Roof Loads: Roofs should be constructed following local building codes and to withstand high wind loads. This would include using wind-resistant materials, drain and gutter screens to reduce debris from blocking roof water management systems and following Fortified Building Construction methods.

This checklist should also outline which staff members are permitted to access the roof, recommended protocols for removing hail, water and snow, how to evaluate wind and hail damage on a roof and the evacuation plan in the event there appears to be major damage. For more details on a roof load checklist, PLM has a sample snow load checklist that businesses can use as a starting point.

Wind and Hail Safety

A strong wind and hail safety program starts long before the storm with preventative maintenance. Business owners should conduct seasonal inspections to clean debris and repair any potential exposures. These inspections can either be done in-house, or by a third-party contractor if your business has the resources to hire one. After a storm, another inspection should be conducted to check for any notable damage.

Here are some other valuable steps to consider:

  • Strengthen Your Roof: In addition to conducting regular roof inspections, consider implementing wind-resistant roofing materials, such as asphalt shingles with high wind ratings or metal roofs.
  • Create a Roof Access Control Plan: As mentioned above, businesses should carefully determine a select number of employees that can access the roof. This will decrease foot traffic. Employees with access should be trained in basic rooftop safety measures, including what gear to wear and fall prevention training.
    Tree and Gutter Management: During maintenance, staff members should trim trees and branches near the property to reduce the chance of any debris striking the main facility. Gutters should be cleaned to remove leaves and other potential debris. Any dead or weakened trees should be removed as well.
  • Build an Emergency Response Plan: Lumber businesses and building material dealers should have an emergency response plan in place detailing how employees should respond to severe weather events, including closing windows and doors before high winds strike and how to utilize supplies that can help mitigate water damages if any leakage occurs. Staff members should be trained in this plan as well.
  • Document: All maintenance, safety training and improvements should be documented in case of a loss.

In addition to taking these steps, working with your insurer is essential. We recommend partnering with a specialty insurer with years of experience in the lumber space. A specialty insurer, like PLM, can provide specificized safety insights and best practices to address our niche’s unique risk profile.

As the leading insurer of the industry for more than 129 years, we know the risks and exposures our businesses face. We offer comprehensive risk assessments and risk management counsel to address any and all safety threats, including wind and hailstorms, and we also offer customized coverage designed to protect your businesses. For more information, please visit us here or contact us at CustServ@plmins.com or 1-800-752-1895.

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