One key to shop safety is to ensure that the facility is always neat and orderly, with no clutter.
photos by Michael Reis, courtesy of Cadenza Marble & Granite

Moderated by Michael Reis

No matter how much education on shop safety is out there, it seems we are hearing about the same accidents happening in stone fabrication shops. What ideas or procedures have you implemented to improve overall shop safety over the past couple of years?

Ronald Hannah, Cadenza Granite & Marble, Concord, NC: First off, in order for a shop owner to create a truly “safe” work environment, he or she must be serious about safety.

The first thing we suggest a shop owner should do is get in touch with OSHA Consultative Services. These are not the compliance guys, but quite the opposite. Consultative Services will come to your facility and spend the required time showing you what issues you have and how to rectify them. The service is free, and it earns you 12 to 18 months of amnesty from OSHA Compliance Department. The only catch is that you must correct any identified issues within the agreed-upon time.

Once you decide to get serious and make the necessary changes to your plant and procedures, the next step is to set policies. I know you have heard this from me before, but you cannot enforce rules if you do not have them in place.

At our shop we do not allow short pants or dangling jewelry. IPods and especially cell phones are forbidden on the shop floor - with no exceptions! We do not allow clutter. The shop is always neat and orderly and the floor is washed daily. We don’t play music in the shop, as we would like to be able to hear if somebody is in trouble. (It is amazing how “tuned in” you get to the sound of your shop and how you can tell when a tool is not running properly just by the slightest variance in its sound.) We insist on steel-toed boots and ear protection always and safety glasses when cutting or grinding. Any employee caught cutting, grinding or polishing dry gets the day off for the first infraction. A second infraction gets you the opportunity to look for another job. We maintain a wet shop, and we are totally dust-free.

Shops should schedule regular production meetings and include shop safety on the agenda. You can choose a different topic each week and encourage brainstorming from your people on how to make the workplace safer.

We believe that a clean shop is a safe shop and a safe shop is a positive shop, and a positive shop produces quality work. We also believe that showing our employees that we truly care about their health will generate positive results down the road.

Trask Bergerson, Bergerson Tile & Stone, Astoria, OR: I couldn’t agree with Ron more regarding the direct correlation between a clean work environment and a safe one. With the recent upsurge in serious injuries and fatalities in our industry, we have really focused on re-evaluating our approach towards safety in a more formal manner. In addition to the traditional written format, we meet weekly as a group to discuss all things related to our work space and are now dedicating a portion of that time for our employees and managers to specifically discuss any concerns or ideas that might improve safety both in the shop and field.

Ironic as it is, the single best thing that has happened to spur our safety program was an accident in the shop where no one was hurt. A few months ago we had a slab break in half while it was being moved by the overhead crane from the finishing area to the truck. Two employees were actively moving the part when the accident occurred (one acting as a stabilizer and spotter and one operating the lifter/crane), and it confirmed a number of positive policies we have enacted. First, we assume that every slab can fall or break without warning - no matter where in the shop it is located. With that assumption we collectively agree to “trust” no stone and assume a defensive position when moving parts, never allowing anyone in “the bite.” Second, we try always to have a spotter for moving awkward or large slabs, as this eliminates blind spots and reinforces that this is never to be a casual routine. We also have a zero-tolerance policy for anyone moving parts alone or after hours.

To my surprise, the crew has taken this seriously on their own accord as well. Our programming room has articles on fabricator injuries stapled to the wall regularly as a reminder to all. The articles appear to be updated every few weeks, and as graphic as some of them are, I am pleased that they are actively educating themselves and looking out for one another.

The easiest injuries to prevent are often those that take years to show and the continued movement towards 100% dust-free/wet shops is a great example. We also have no tolerance for dry cutting or grinding in the shop. On very rare occasions, we have an odd thing that is dry cut - and it happens outside - but we have eliminated 99.9% of it.

As with every aspect of our operation, we are always evolving and refining our methods and approaches. I feel strongly that the single best vehicle for worker safety is to keep it a constant topic and priority. The redundancy can seem at times almost “politically correct,” but the importance of it cannot be lost or forgotten. The most dangerous moment a stoneworker encounters is the second he becomes comfortable.

Miles Crowe, SFA, Crowe Custom Countertops, Inc., Atlanta, GA: Ron has hit the nail on the head. We made an application for the voluntary OSHA compliance program through a local university. I have hired a safety consultant to help us. We now include safety in our weekly managers’ meetings. My shop foreman starts each week with a safety and maintenance meeting on Monday mornings. We have instituted a complete safety program with training and policies.

The bottom line is that we made a commitment to being safe, and we are serious about it.

Mark DeFusco, DeFusco Industrial Supply, Tempe, AZ: While it is not on the scale of being buried under a falling slab, one safety item I see overlooked too often is that little metal shroud on a grinder called a guard. In my 20-plus years of selling diamond products, I constantly see installers who take off the guard because it allows them to see the cut freely - even at the possible expense of risking danger from a broken blade. Remember that with a 4 ½- or 5-inch blade running at 10,000 to 12,000 RPM, if a segment or a piece of the rim breaks off, it is like a slow bullet - a hunk of metal traveling at up to 300 feet per second. The likelihood of it killing someone is extremely small, but at that speed it will do a lot of damage, especially if it hits a soft tissue target like an eye, the throat or abdomen. I would not want to trust a pair of plastic safety glasses to cushion the blow and defend my eyesight against this.

From a safety standpoint, I think this is so important that I instruct my people not to sell to a customer if he is not using a guard. If he wants better sight he can turn the guard to allow better vision, while still protecting the user as it is designed to do.