Each and every year, the number of deaths and serious injuries caused by improper slab handling is at a point where I am compelled to dedicate an entire column to the subject. Frankly, one death per year is too many, but it has been far more than that, and it appears that this is a subject that continually requires revisiting.

I could go on and on about how safety meetings should be held at distribution centers and fabrication shops on a weekly basis and how education should be targeted towards both new and seasoned employees, but I’d rather stress something more specific being done about this topic.

The Marble Institute of America (MIA) has launched a major new safety initiative that will examine every facet of slab handling and produce new video and other training materials for the industry. “This initiative has the highest priority at MIA,” said Gary Distelhorst, Executive Vice President of the association.

According to the MIA, deaths have been reported at both fabricator and distributor facilities in recent months in California, Oklahoma, Florida, New York and Ohio. It goes without saying that deaths in five states over a period of a few months is too much to bear, and the MIA is hoping to end this deadly trend by assembling a “slab handling safety task force” composed of safety experts from leading stone distributors. The group consists of key safety and operational executives from: Architectural Granite & Marble, Arizona Tile, Daltile, Midwest Tile, Mont Granite, MS International, OHM International and Walker Zanger. All of these firms are long-established companies with elaborate slab warehousing facilities, and they have a great deal to offer the industry at large.

The MIA reported that in its first teleconference, the task force focused on several important safety issues concerning slab handling. This included the use of overhead cranes and uniform procedures for slab delivery to local fabricators, each of which provides a unique delivery situation because of facilities and terrain.

The task force is expected to meet in the near future to determine specific topics that will lead to the creation of a new video script and other training materials. MIA hopes to distribute the new materials by late spring.

Funding for the new initiative will be provided by MIA and several stone suppliers across the country.

Four years ago, the MIA created a major slab handling safety video and other training materials, and they have been widely used throughout the industry. However, following an ugly pattern that has repeated itself over the years, accidents appear to be on the rise. “Obviously, the subject needs to be addressed again and expanded in scope and depth,” Distelhorst said. “In the meantime, we urge all MIA members and others in the industry to make use of current MIA slab handling safety materials to reinforce the message that careless slab handling is very dangerous.”

For a complete listing of safety materials available, go online to www.marble-institute.com/safety.

Beyond that, talk with your fellow fabricators and distributors about slab handling safety. The Coverings expo in Orlando, FL, this month should provide plenty of opportunities. If you don’t attend a seminar specific to slab handling, then bring it up at one of the Fabricator Roundtables. While we all want to learn how to hone our craft and improve our bottom line, safety is simply too important a topic to ignore.