There are many risks on a jobsite, but usually it’s the most common things that end up being a safety hazard. Often overlooked or underestimated, these routine things can easily become dangerous situations. Safety training protects people with established procedures and best practices, reminding workers of jobsite hazards and how to prevent them. However, even if a business has an established safety plan, rules and procedures must be followed for them to be effective.
When stone installers enter a residential or commercial jobsite, there are often other trades working alongside of them. Whether it’s painters, carpenters, SW setters or masons, increased safety awareness should be exercised on a jobsite. SW setters may be working on the bathrooms, while masons install bluestone pavers on the exterior patio. Vehicles may be parked along the driveway or adjacent streets restricting traffic flow, while truckers attempt deliveries of needed supplies.
Workers often share tools and equipment. Sharing acetone by pouring some into an empty water bottle may seem like a good idea, but using a water bottle to store dangerous liquids is prohibited and extremely dangerous. Always use containers for what they are intended. Acetone should only be stored in its original container or an approved acetone dispenser, each with clear warning labels, and never in a water bottle.
Because all electrical outlets on a jobsite may not be live or limited to only certain outlets, workers often rely on extension cords to power their saws and hand tools. Without enough extension cords on hand, a crew may improvise by using older cords left in their truck, some with damaged sheathing or missing grounds. But the use of damaged electrical cords is an OSHA violation and may cause electrocution or fire. Extensions that are old, worn or compromised should be discarded. Holding on to damaged electrical cords will only encourage workers to use them.
Boom truck operators require enough room to extend their stabilizers. When space is limited, it may not be feasible. A contractor may insist that the driver make the delivery without stabilizing the truck. But a smart trucker will reschedule the delivery when there is sufficient space to extend the outriggers. An experienced boom truck operator avoids accidents using the knowledge he gained through safety training and years of experience. The trucker is the captain of his ship and must make the right decisions based on specific jobsite conditions regardless of the urgency.
Bluestone is often used for exterior walkways and patios. The only safe way to cut bluestone is with a wet saw. The water used to cool the blade also captures the wet dust instead of releasing it into the air. The saw operator should always wear eye protection and a N95 mask or respirator while operating the saw. This is important because bluestone is a sandstone with a high quartz content. The use of a wet saw -- combined with proper personal protective equipment (PPE) -- is an appropriate safety practice. Wet cutting processes are proven to reduce or eliminate airborne dust when cutting stone and should always be used when cutting stones that are rich in quartz, such as bluestone and quartzite.
Field cuts on bluestone can be a challenge to installers. Moving the heavy pieces of bluestone over to the wet saw may not be an option. Making a dry cut on bluestone generates airborne silica and granular shrapnel. Besides proper PPE, field cuts require a water-fed diamond blade hand saw with proper blade guards. Removing the blade guard may make field cuts easier, but is also an OSHA violation that leaves the worker exposed to serious injury from the spinning blade or flying debris from the stone or blade itself.
Mixing mortar may generate airborne silica too, so it is essential to use a respirator or N95 mask when mixing concrete, Portland cement, grout or any dry cementitious products.
Workers exposed to airborne silica can develop long-term health issues, such as silicosis, an incurable lung disease caused when airborne silica particles get lodged into healthy lung tissue. Beards and mustaches create gaps between the face and a mask, interfering with the mask’s effectiveness. To provide any protection against airborne particulates while using a mask, facial hair should be removed.
It’s a good idea to clean up the work area at the end of the day. Extension cords, tools and debris should be taken away for safety and as a courtesy to others. Before leaving, also wash your hands and face with soap and water. Never blow off clothing with compressed air or stir up dust with a broom, this just spreads the dust around. Change into clean clothes and put dirty work clothes in a plastic bag. This will not only keep your car clean, but will also prevent dangerous dust from entering your home and exposing it to your family.
Following basic OSHA protocols is the first step towards jobsite safety. At a minimum, workers should be required to pass an OSHA 10 or even an OSHA 30 certification. An OSHA 10 card proves that you completed 10 hours of authorized OSHA training on important workplace safety topics. Workers with OSHA certification help prevent injuries and keep workplaces safe and productive. Regular jobsite safety meetings remind everyone to follow OSHA requirements and pay attention to other hazards that may be specific to the jobsite.
Learn about OSHA requirements online or through an OSHA onsite safety consultant: https://www.osha.gov/sites/default/files/publications/factsheet-consultations.pdf.
An onsite consultant is not a compliance officer and cannot issue fines. Instead, the consultant provides comprehensive or specific training based on a business owner’s request. There is no cost for an onsite consultation, and services include free silica air sampling and forklift training in English and Spanish.
Everyone working in the stone industry should use the safety and training resources available through the Natural Stone Institute, which provides numerous safety courses and toolbox talks specific to the stone industry. Most importantly, they offer a free Job Hazard Analysis, which will help identify hazards before they occur: https://www.naturalstoneinstitute.org/education-and-events/education/jha/.
Learning about the dangers associated with airborne silica is essential. NSI members, get a free silica and slab safety certificate after completing a safety course bundle dedicated to these topics, https://edu.naturalstoneinstitute.org/education/catalog/courseGroup.cfm?id=22
If you are not a member yet, use free courses and toolbox talks to facilitate your safety meetings and include in your business’s safety plan.
Jonathan Mitnick is a partner at CCS Stone, Inc. and president of Mitnick Stone Inc., a stone advisory company. A director for the Natural Stone Institute (NSI), Mitnick is also the only NSI Accredited Fabricator in New Jersey. He is past chairman for the NSI Safety Committee, a speaker at Coverings and TISE, and participates in the Women in Stone Mentorship program.