The safe zone: What to know about handling stone slabs
When working in a slab yard or on a jobsite, adhering to safety rules can make the different between life or death
Stone is beautiful, and truly the greatest building material available. Stone professionals are always busy finding new ways to process materials and service their customers, but the danger of handling and storing stone, particularly slabs, is often times overlooked. People simply need to be constantly reminded of the dangers posed by improper slab storage and handling.
Visits to a stone shop or slab yard should not be a life threatening experience. But the truth is, stone can be dangerous and accidents happen all the time. They happen to stone workers, contractors, truckers and to the public. Fabricators and installers are around stone all the time so they are familiar with the dangers. These are trained people who are instructed about the hazards associated with stone, and know the risks…but accidents still happen. The issue is how to prevent them.
Safety experts create best practices for every industry. Our associations provide insight into industry specific safety protocols. If workers follow these protocols, mishaps could be prevented and injuries avoided. The Natural Stone Institute Safety Committee has developed numerous publications and videos on slab safety. These training tools are available to everyone. Safety training may also be found in locally sponsored training seminars, sessions taught at industry events like Coverings and through free Voluntary OSHA Onsite Consultations. The most important message in slab safety is to avoid the “Fall Shadow.” This is the danger zone along the broad side of the slab where most slab injuries and deaths occur. The point is that slab safety training is available and following a regimen with employees will save lives.
The troubling part is that accidents happen to customers and innocent bystanders too, people who have no training or understanding of the risks of the materials around them. Curiosity leads to many accidents. It may be a razor sharp cut from feeling a broken edge of slate, or maybe a pinched finger from sorting through remnants. It sounds innocent enough, and most people think it’s not a big deal. But a pinched finger is only a warning that something more serious could have happened. Actually you may say, that person was lucky to only hurt their finger. Things could have been a lot worse, it could have been a crushed leg or head and not just a finger. That person didn’t know their life was in danger and that the action of tipping a slab or remnant without proper training could have caused them serious injury or even death.
There is very little training available to the public for properly handling stone. After all, who needs it? Besides going to a stone shop to pick out your granite slab, what other reason would the average person need to go to a stone shop or jobsite? The public depends on stone professionals to make sure the environment they enter is safe and not a threat to their health or safety. This makes it the responsibility of the business owner to control the handling of stone in his or her facility, as well as the jobsites they are operating.
What about the liability? If someone is seriously injured or dies, this will have devastating consequences for the family of the victim. But to the business owner, the trouble has just begun.
After OSHA compliance officers scour through business records and write up thousands of dollars in violations. The victim’s family will surely look for compensation. How would a business owner cope with the days that follow the accident? In addition to the interruption of business, there is consoling of the victim’s family and fellow workers. Then repeated visits from OSHA compliance officials and police investigators. Lawyers representing the victim will surely pursue every level of the supply chain to assign the blame. This may include shop owners, suppliers, truckers, equipment manufacturers and even property owners where the injury occurs.
It just seems like something too important to ignore, and a subject that deserves more attention than it’s been getting.
Handling stone is a skill that develops from experience. Stone slabs are unique in many ways and the handling risks may depend on the type of stone. For that reason, only a skilled stone professional should be doing the handling. Choose and train specific people and assign them to that task. Select someone familiar with each stone and its inherent characteristics so they can choose the best method to move that particular material.
Don’t allow the public to handle remnants or wander through your facility. The Natural Stone Institute encourages business owners to have visitors sign a waiver and/or display visitor guidelines to protect their customers and business. Whether a waiver is used or not, never leave visitors unattended around slabs and always have a trained stone professional accompany them in your facility.
Following proper protocol can save lives. Don’t wait for an accident to occur or a visit from OSHA before becoming responsible for the safety in your workplace. Have frequent safety meetings and training sessions with your employees. Pay attention to potential hazards around the shop, warehouse, slab yard and jobsite. And remember, there is no room for complacency when it comes to safety.