I was thumbing through an issue of The New York Daily News the other day, and my heart sank when I saw a headline that read “KILLED BY MARBLE SLABS.” I went on to read that Xavier Minchala-Cardenas, a 19-year-old immigrant from Ecuador, was stacking slabs in a Queens, NY, stone shop when several of the slabs toppled over, pinning him underneath. Although six New York firefighters and several shop workers were able to pull him from the rubble, he died from his injuries a few days afterward.

After reading this story and finally composing myself, I clipped out the article and taped it to my computer screen, as a reminder that it is time - once again - to address the issue of safety when handling stone slabs. I mean, this kid was only 19 years old…

How many times does someone have to be killed before EVERYONE in our industry sees that slab handling is by far the deadliest aspect of our business? Today, there are more resources than ever to educate a shop on slab handling and safety procedures. Material handling and shop safety are addressed during the seminar programs at virtually every stone trade show out there today. Independent workshops offered by the Marble Institute of America, Stone World Magazine and other organizations address safety as well, providing yet another opportunity to get yourself educated.

Moreover, there is an abundance of instructional materials out there that shop owners or managers can take back to their facility and share with their employees. The Marble Institute of America has dedicated an entire section of its online store to shop safety, including a CD entitled, “Basics of Safe Stone Slab Handling,” which covers the safe and proper handling of natural stone slabs used in stone shops, stone yards and stone distribution facilities. It includes sections on slab transportation, slab loading and unloading and slab storage, among other topics.

The “Basics of Safe Stone Slab Handling” is available in English and Spanish, and all you have to do is visit www.marble-institute.com, click on “Bookstore,” and then click on “Health and Safety” to find the CD and make the purchase. It will be the best $39 you ever spent, and even if you’re not an MIA member, the cost is $69. Buy it, and make it mandatory viewing for ALL of your workers - the new hires as well as the shop veterans.

Each year, I visit dozens of stone shops and plants around the world, and the dangers of slab handling are quite invisible. When transported with vacuum lifters or even clamps, stone slabs look far lighter and maneuverable than the reality of the situation. Your workers need to know exactly what they are dealing with when they are handling stone slabs.

Now, in the case of the tragedy in New York, I’m not blaming the shop owners, because there are countless variables that can contribute to such a tragedy. A shop can have a perfect material handling and safety program in place that the employees simply choose to ignore. They can take every step to educate an employee on the dangers of slab handling, and that worker may turn around and forget everything they’ve been told. My suggestion to shop owners is this: If you are educating your workers on material handling and safety, and someone is ignoring you, it is time for you to FIRE that employee. They won’t be happy standing on the unemployment line, but it sure beats the alternative.