With the hazards of working in the stone industry always a concern and OSHA tightening its rulings on silicosis, fabricators continue to implement procedures and emphasize to their employees the importance of safety in the work place

  • Laura Grandlienard, ROCKin’teriors, Raleigh, NC
  • Jonathan Mitnick, CCS Stone, Inc., Moonachie, NJ (MIA+BSI Safety Committee member)
  • Karen Roe, NSM Florida Enterprises, LLC, Sanford, FL
  • Dave Scott, Slabworks of Montana, Bozeman, MT

SW: What policies and procedures have you established to ensure safety in your fabrication shop?

Grandlienard: Our shop manager, Omar Salazar, is our safety officer. Rebecca Watson is our safety coordinator. They work closely with the North Carolina OSHA consultants and keep the team informed. OSHA reviews our policies and procedures on an on-going basis.

We have volunteer OSHA inspections planned and un-anticipated visits at our facility. In October 2016, our safety and health inspection assessment came at a surpassing rating that the director was impressed, but yet questioned it. OSHA management came in as a surprise visit to revalidate the assessment. They were amazed that the dust-free workplace could have such a positive impact. They will continue to monitor us, but also would like to establish a case study on silica, which is a compliment to our team. We transitioned from dry fabrication to a wet process. We find that working with safety each day is just part of our daily process. The value in that is our whole team is always prepared, regardless if in the field, the fabrication shop or showroom studio, and can be stopped and questioned. We have invested in our team to ensure they are safety conscious and aware that they are well informed and understand the pros and cons of why it’s important to each individual. Safety saves lives, saves money and saves time.

Mitnick: We are in a very dangerous business. It just takes a second for a hand to get crushed or a foot — or even worse. If someone gets hurt in your shop or compromises the health and safety of other workers, the fun is over. Becoming Accredited [by the Marble Institute of America+Building Stone Institute] had the most profound impact on our company’s attitude towards safety. It’s a whole journey. Also, continuing to network and our involvement in MIA+BSI — particularly with the safety committee. Jim [Hieb of MIA+BSI] continues to be an inspiration for everyone. That put us on a good course to practice and observe protocol for safety.

We also do a MIA+BSI-Accredited mandatory OSHA onsite consultation annually. It’s the best way to remain compliant.

When the silica dust issue came up, GK [Naquin of Stone Interiors] said he hoses down the floors in his shops first thing in the morning. I thought that was a good idea. Anything that dried overnight could get kicked up. Hosing down the floors prevents that. So we do that now. Also, it’s important to change your clothes after working in the shop. Dust can get in cars and when you hug your kids it can get on them.

Roe: We follow all the OSHA guidelines that are required of us and then use all the MIA+BSI Toolbox talks, training videos and in-house training videos for safety. Every new employee goes through an orientation and is given information on all safety concerns in our industry — even if they work in the office — so that all employees know what is a hazard, and if seen, can report it to the management to fix anything they may see.

Scott: We have adapted the MIA+BSI’s Health Safety Handbook to the particulars of our operation. The biggest issue is to get the employees to take ownership of the program.

SW: How do you stress the importance of safety to your employees?

Grandlienard: The stone industry is surrounded by Mother Nature’s beauty, and yet so dangerous. Safety is our number one mission. We care about each individual and the longevity of the whole team. We have a team culture workplace and work in a harmonious environment. Safety and sustainability are always our top priority in what we do. We have weekly safety meetings – each team member presents a weekly topic — and it includes our whole company fabricator, team leaders and sales team, in-house impromptu safety inspections, and we have safety quizzes in our team meetings for fun that allow us to emphasize topics.

Roe: We have daily five-minute “pow-wows” each morning to go over the day’s work and anything that needs special attention for that day. Included in that five minutes is always something about safety, whether it is something they have seen going on that needs to be addressed or a new subject for further training. Then our manager has weekly safety meetings to continually go over best practices, and we use the Toolbox talks a lot for this. On project jobsites, a day doesn’t start without a safety meeting. Again, these don’t need to be long drawn-out meetings. They can be a quick five minutes to keep everyone on their toes.

Scott: You must lead by example, and I tell them, I can always buy another slab but I cannot get another you.

SW: Do you find your shop workers are receptive to the safety procedures or do you find them difficult to enforce?

Roe: Workers themselves want a safe environment, but there are always the ones that are the “rebels” that don’t feel they need to participate. I personally have a zero tolerance for this. If they don’t get on the same train that we are on, they don’t belong working for me. It has to be this way or someone will get hurt, or cause someone else to get hurt. It all starts with your management team. They are the example and need to set that example and be consistent with their training and supervision on the subjects.

Scott: Enforcement is not as difficult as is getting employees to always be conscious of their safety and the safety of co-workers, and getting safety to become second nature to them.

SW: What do you view as a top priority when it comes to shop safety? Why?

Grandlienard: When you sling rock every day, you want to come back the next day. We care for the well-being of each individual at ROCKin’teriors. Each individual has to care for the well-being of their colleague. This then enables them to apply their passion, creativity and skills to the work we do.

Mitnick: For a stone shop, there’s a lot we can observe. The greatest is when a stone shop works wet. It pretty much eliminates most of the problem. You can brag and say, “I don’t have dust and I have a good working environment.”

Roe: Obviously, silica is a huge concern with all stone shops. Fabricating everything wet has been, and will always be, the goal for our shop so that as little dust as possible is created. The other issues we see are slab safety. People get comfortable in their jobs and forget how easy it is to have a slab fall or even tip over. Continual and consistent training and supervision are key.

Scott: Respect the slab. Nobody is strong enough to stop a slab in motion from falling. Unfortunately, people can die when things go wrong.

SW: Do you find there is enough information available to assist fabricators in creating a safe work environment? Why or why not?

Grandlienard: Yes, we do. We discuss the topic all the time. The MIA+BSI has done a superb job of covering this important topic — even translating in different languages. We have our safety posters — caution, eye glasses, etc. — all around the shop and their specific work areas.

Mitnick: On-site OSHA consultation will bring all that information to the forefront. The consultant is literally at your service. It’s great. Go through the Department of Labor online to schedule an OSHA onsite consultation. The consultant comes in as invited. It’s another thing showing as an employer you are doing all you can do.

It can also be done other ways — through insurance companies or private companies that come in to make a safety program for you. There are also safety sessions at the shows and local MIA+BSI chapter events.

Fabricators can go to the MIA+BSI bookstore and buy the Health and Safety Handbook.

In addition to all of the free safety educational info and videos the MIA gives you, the Handbook is a comprehensive guide that has templates for everything. You can edit in your company information. It’s user friendly. There are file forms for injury and illness reports and examples of Safety Data Sheets. OSHA is looking for everything to be up-to-date. If you are running a stone shop or warehouse, keep good files. It shows you have a proactive approach toward your workers.

Roe: It is amazing what is available now that wasn’t 10 years ago. The MIA+BSI has done an extremely tremendous job providing documents, training tools and education, as well as their knowledgeable and supportive staff. There are also many local agencies that have the voluntary safety programs that people are afraid to use, but they are the some of the best free services you can ever get.

Scott: Yes, there are resources available through trade associations, State and Federal agencies and the MIA+BSI.

SW: What are your thoughts on the new OSHA silica ruling? How will this affect your shop? How do you think this will affect fabricators overall?

Grandlienard: We know that it is doable and worth the transition. At first, we received some push back from the team. Human nature avoids change if things are working well. We transitioned two-and-a-half years ago to a dust-free and silica-free workplace. There is no going back. We had a few folks kicking and moaning, and we made it as a condition of employment — not a choice. From that point forward it has been a positive and morale has never been higher. The team is so talented that they now see the value of how important it is to work in a safe environment and in a dust-free silica-free shop.

Mitnick: The first phase of the new silica mandate on airborne silica went into effect in 2016. It reduced the number from 100 microns to 50 microns. It’s half of what had previously been allowed. I think it is a good thing for the industry because people who aren’t observing safe practices will have to adhere to it. If you always drive with your seat belt, then the law didn’t affect you. It’s a level playing field for companies who run a tight ship and play by the rules. You are required to know the law.

I think working in the field where tile setters are mixing cement [obeying the new ruling is] more challenging. It depends on what part of the business you are in.

Roe: I think the silica ruling is excessive. I think they are not educated enough in our industry, which is why more fabricators need to be involved in the MIA+BSI to support the government participation that they have to lobby for our industry. How it will affect my shop? It continues to make us want everything to be wet — always. Even wet, there is a concern. We are trying to stay involved and informed of everything going on with the changes. Educating ourselves and staying involved with the industry is so important — especially for reasons such as this. How it affects the other fabricators? I’m hoping it helps to weed out the serious fabricators from the fly by night ones that don’t want to invest in the business and the safety of their employees. If it doesn’t weed them out, then at least it sets a standard for the industry.

Scott: The danger of free silica is real. This is a new set of regulations and hopefully OSHA will be realistic and be a partner rather than an adversary in educating and helping fabricators to comply.

We are a wet shop, we do not work dry. We have four air filtration units equipped with HEPA filters that completely turn over the shop air every 10 minutes. We also use a floor scrubber each night to remove as much dust from the floors as possible before it can dry.
We are in the midst of a baseline silica analysis being conducted by the State Labor and Industry Department. It is free. We should know soon as to where we are in relation to the regulations with our current procedures.

SW: What advice would you give to a shop starting out that can’t afford all of the equipment needed to implement a safe working environment?

Grandlienard: Investing in a dust-free environment allows you to maintain employees and gives them the satisfaction that they want to begin a stone career with you and enable you success from the jump start of your business.

Mitnick: Anyone — MIA+BSI member or non-member has access to the MIA+BSI safety handbook. It’s an encyclopedia of safety concerns that should be addressed. It’s a good start for a company because the task of creating a safety plan for your company can be daunting.

Have periodic safety meetings. Use MIA+BSI Toolbox talks. They are a great training tool and specific to the stone industry. There’s one on electrical hazards and flammable liquids. There’s usually a case study where there was an incident that happens and what was learned from it. It’s not overwhelming. It’s great for your file. Show OSHA as an employer you are doing your due diligence.

Roe: There is no excuse to not invest in safety. Just like they are building their business in every other way, safety should be a priority. Some of the safety things are simple and don’t even cost anything but your time. It’s a commitment to start a business and build a business, and to me, there is no room for a successful business to not have safety as a priority. Use the industry tools that are given to us, like the MIA+BSI. Most of their documents are free. Get involved and stay involved.

Scott: Get started and add as you can.