The slab road
Overseas containers of finished slabs travel local roads to and from ports around the world. Flatbed trailers move stone over highways and local roads to wholesalers and jobsites throughout the U.S. and Canada. Distributors make slab deliveries with boom trucks, box trucks and commercial carriers. The amount of slab material and tile being transported by truck is enormous and seems to grow every year.
The average person travels in a vehicle almost every day near a truck carrying natural stone or artificial slabs. Between cell phones and potholes, getting behind the wheel can be difficult, but having to share the road with slab trucks has an added risk. It’s important to understand the risks and take the necessary steps to mitigate them.
Surprisingly, it’s not just natural stone contributing to the growth of slabs on the road.
Much of the growth is actually from artificial materials like engineered quartz and porcelain. Large producers have developed creative ways of getting these materials to their customers. It’s reassuring to see many reputable distributors using slab trucks following industry best practices. But many companies have come up with their own solution to facilitate shipping and reduce the cost of transporting their products around the country. Instead of slab trucks, a popular method of delivery has been to ship palletized slabs using commercial carriers in closed dry vans. The problem is the truckers are not just picking up simple boxes and skids from their usual stops, but instead they are loading crates of slabs that can be very heavy and dangerous. These frames are awkward and often inadequately secured. Fabricators are now relying on a trucking company that delivers boxes of furniture to safely transport bundles of slabs bound to wooden or metal frames. Today, we see common carriers getting loaded with slabs of everything from porcelain to engineered quartz to natural stone. Some distributors have tested crating systems with their designated carriers, but a vast majority haven’t. Wooden frames with slabs are so common that it’s concerning. The methods vary, but most truckers surely lack formal slab handling safety.
Historically, stone slab suppliers have chosen to ship their materials using traditional methods, using steel A frames attached to flatbed trucks and handled by stone haulers with years of experience. Best practices for slab loading and handling may be found on the Natural Stone Institute website based on tried and true methods developed by stone professionals over generations.
Fabricated stone has its own special handling procedures to follow. It’s common for installers to use pick-up trucks when making countertop deliveries. Regardless how they get there, the goal is to bring everything needed to get the work done without a return trip. Increased use of reusable steel transport frames has made countertop transportation safer and easier. Load bars keep the fabricated pieces in place and make them much easier to load and unload. After the installation, it’s important to carefully secure load bars and other tools in the bed of a pick-up truck or work van. Your company’s safety plan should focus on securing loose objects, and removing any debris from the back of the truck before leaving the jobsite.
To learn about slab handling safety and developing your company’s safety plan, visit the Natural Stone Institute website, www.naturalstoneinstitute.org.
The Institute sets stone industry standards and provides slab transport safety training resources to members and nonmembers, including the Natural Stone Academy, NSI instructional videos and effective tool box talks. Focused on safety issues specific to the natural stone industry, these practices may be applied to artificial materials as well. Using these educational tools will prepare workers to handle slabs properly, and become more familiar with the risks involved in moving stone and manmade surfaces.
Every business that handles slabs of natural and manmade surfaces should review their safety plan with employees regularly. Feedback from workers is valuable, so involve them in open safety discussions. Do everything possible to ensure the shipments in and out of your facility are routinely inspected and secured properly whether it’s your material or not. Give employees proper training through regular safety meetings where they can share ideas and experiences. Create your company’s safety plan based on your business’s specific needs and find the time to implement it.
When the next slab truck leaves your facility, ask yourself if you would feel comfortable with your family driving behind it… and remember there is no room for complacency when it comes to slab safety.