Unfortunately, the Marble Institute of America (MIA) has serious and disturbing news to report involving the deaths of four stone industry employees killed over the past several weeks in slab handling accidents. In Florida and Oklahoma, and in Maryland just last week, the deaths occurred while unloading trucks. In California, the owner of a fabrication business was killed while unloading a container.

As a result of this tragic loss of life and to help prevent further stone-related accidents in the workplace, MIA is re-galvanizing its aggressive stone safety initiative and will be producing timely video and print training programs that specifically address the factors which caused these and other slab handling accidents.

MIA has recently convened a panel of top-level stone distribution safety professionals who will review the information available concerning the recent accidents and make specific recommendations on the content of the new training materials. Once this review is completed, production will immediately begin on the new training materials, which will be made available to distributors and fabricators in the industry upon completion.

MIA has long recognized that any handling of slabs or countertops in the industry poses a potential hazard to those handling the material. That's why we produced a special video on stone handling safety several years ago and distributed it throughout the industry. We know it has been widely used by both members and non-members.

As we all painfully know, even among those who have been well trained in safety procedures, it only takes a split second of carelessness for a tragic accident to occur. Because of the economy, these are stressful times in our industry, especially with associates worrying about job security and other financial concerns. Sometimes stress-related conditions cause folks to take their eye off the ball and accidents occur.

Because of the recent and tragic stone handling fatalities, it would seem that now is a very good time for every company in our industry to give those involved in stone handling a safety "pep talk," which focuses on the hazards involved, as evidenced by the recent deaths.

MIA's original slab handling safety program would be an excellent component in that safety session. Dust it off and show it to every one that handles stone in the warehouse, fabrication shop and in the field. If you can't find a copy of the program, call or e-mail MIA and we will send you a complimentary copy.

Now would also be an excellent time to check your slab handling equipment, including overhead cranes, to make sure that it is function properly. In tough economic conditions, there sometime is a tendency to put off maintenance issues until things get better. But not when human life is at stake.

Safety will always continue to be a top priority for MIA. We will keep you up to date on our efforts to supply you with the newest training materials in the very near future.

-- Gary Distelhorst, Executive Vice President, Marble Institute of America