Stories of stone accidents and injuries go back generations. It is common to meet people that work in the stone business who have a story to tell. Stories of their mishaps and close calls provide a glimpse into their world. One filled with inherent risks and dangers that they know exist but often overlook. Unfortunately, there are too many average people reciting their own stories about stone-related accidents as well. Nobody expects them to happen, but when they do, we always ask ourselves how the accident could have been prevented. Mishaps may occur at a stone shop or quarry, jobsite or warehouse. Although the situations vary, the stories share a common theme -- many of the accidents and injuries could have been prevented.
About 20 years ago, a friend of mine from Carrara, Italy, told me a story that I will never forget.
His name was Feridio, named after his uncle Feridio, a name shared by two great men. It is an unusual name, certainly one you don’t hear very often. These days, my friend makes his living quarrying and processing the marble from his hometown in Carrara -- much the same way his uncle did years ago. They lived in Carrara, surrounded by hills at the foot of the white-capped Apuan Alps. Like many generations before them, their family life centered around natural stone. It wasn’t just any stone, it was the near pure white calcium carbonate marble that was all around them.
Before Feridio was born, his uncle died, so he never knew him. The parents liked the name so they gave it to their son. It’s not surprising to name children after people who died, especially relatives who were loved and respected. Surely, his parents gave him that name to honor his uncle, a hard-working quarrier who died doing what he loved to do, producing blocks of white Carrara marble. However, it was the way his uncle died that was tough on the family, and the people who knew him.
It was a routine day at the quarry and Feridio’s uncle was examining two blocks. His years of experience as a quarryman taught him many skills and earned him respect from his peers. He was doing something he enjoyed, looking at blocks of marble and determining if they were suitable for a particular project -- something he did almost every day. Living around the quarries and sawing mills his whole life, this was just another day at work. There was little to worry about, so it seemed, but this particular day was different. A terrible accident was about to happen. Feridio’s uncle was examining blocks. When he put his head between two of the blocks, one shifted, crushing his skull between the two massive stones and killing him instantly. It didn’t matter how the block moved, or how the accident could have been prevented. The tragedy happened and his uncle was gone.
Soon after the unfortunate accident, my friend Feridio was born. Instead of celebrating his birth, the family mourned their recent loss. His family was so traumatized by his uncle’s untimely death, they couldn’t even bring themselves to call the newborn by his own name for the first two years of his life. Because of this, Feridio never knew his name until he was three-years-old. This was Feridio’s story. It’s not only about his name or the terrible accident that brought sadness to his family. It’s a reminder that even the most experienced workers need to be trained in stone safety.
The stone business in the 1960s was much different than it is today. Environmental and safety regulations were scarce and procedures were still evolving. In Carrara, the Carrione River flowed white from the slurry from sawing mills upstream. There weren’t many lockout /tag-out boxes or mandatory PPE rules. The situation has gotten better since then, but even today, there is still a need to improve safety awareness.
Even with experience, it only takes a moment of bad judgement to lose a life. Sadly, we learn of more stories of people being injured or killed by stone every day -- from the worker, trucker or customer standing in the fall shadow to the fabricator, forklift operator or tile installer exposed to airborne silica. Daily risks exist where stone is being processed, stored, transported or handled. Effective safety training is essential to mitigate those risks.
It’s important to keep workers engaged in weekly safety meetings. Review procedures and mundane tasks such as moving a slab or loading a truck. The Natural Stone Institute provides industry-specific training tools for free. Supported by its members and top stone industry volunteers, the Natural Stone Institute has compiled the largest collection of stone safety training videos, courses and webinars in the world. This information can’t be found in the government’s OSHA requirements or through an onsite consultation. It only comes from Natural Stone Institute members that support safety and other great stone initiatives. New members receive a credit towards earning a stone safety certificate. It will increase awareness, help prevent accidents and may even bring down insurance premiums for your business.
Managing a safe work environment could be your story. All workers require routine training for their safety, as well as others. Review the protocols for your business and hold regular meetings with your employees. Question whether conditions are safe, and if your employees or clients are at risk. Accidents that result in injury or death can be avoided by following established guidelines and enforcing policies in your business. The next time you visit a quarry, factory or stone shop, be aware of your surroundings, recognize the risks, be vigilant and stay out of harm’s way. Because when it comes to stone safety there is no room for complacency.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jonathan Mitnick is president of Mitnick Stone, Inc, a stone advisory company and a partner at CCS Stone, the first and only Accredited Fabricator in New Jersey. An expert in stone safety, fabrication and material supply, Mitnick is also a Board Director for the Natural Stone Institute and post Chairman of the Natural Stone Institute Safety Committee. For more information, he may be reached at email@example.com.