Stone products are coveted for their longevity and elegance, and are in high demand for multiple facets of interiors, including fireplace surrounds and countertops. As consumers continue to opt for luxury, increasingly more high-end jobs go to hard surfaces. To keep pace with this strong growth rate, more and more surface fabricators are taking on stone and e-stone/quartz to meet consumer demand and increase sales.
Unfortunately, handling and transporting slabs of these materials can be hazardous. Each slab can weigh from hundreds to a few thousand pounds. An average truck load can weigh up to 40,000 pounds. In response to a number of worker injuries and fatalities, OSHA has just released a safety and health information bulletin regarding the hazards associated with the handling and transporting of slabs.
Stone slab loads can shift or tip over during loading, transport and unloading. Workers can be struck by shifting or falling slabs, or can be trapped or crushed in between slabs. While there are no specific OSHA regulations pertaining to slab handling and transportation procedures, it is the employer’s responsibility under the General Duty Clause to provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm. OSHA requires that employers take reasonable steps to prevent or abate any recognized hazard.
Slabs are typically transported vertically on metal and/or wood storage racks strapped to the bed of the truck. Often, these racks are an A-frame structure, and the slabs are strapped to these A-frames. The distributor typically loads the slabs onto the truck, they are transported to their destination, and employees at the other end off-load the slabs from the racks. During transport, the loads can shift or the tracks can become deformed or fail. As a result, the slabs may shift or fall while they are being unloaded. In many cases, the A-frames have not been designed to take into account the weight of the slabs, and/or have not been designed to prevent shifting of other slabs if one slab shifts or is removed. The slabs can also shift or fall due to improper placement or failure of restraining devices.
Safe Work Practices
The following procedures will minimize the potential hazards associated with handling and transporting stone/e-stone slabs:
- Only use slab transportation devices that are designed to withstand the loads and forces imposed on them. Storage racks should be designed so that if one or more slabs shift or are moved, the other slabs will not be affected.
- Storage rack must be sufficiently secured to the truck.
- Storage racks should be routinely inspected and maintained.
- If restraining devices and tie-downs are used, they should be inspected before being applied, and prior to being removed. Restraining devices and tie-downs that do not pass inspection should be removed from service.
- Establish safe loading/unloading procedures, following all safety-related work practices.
- As always, the importance of training employees on safe work practices is paramount. Train employees to recognize fallen or shifted slabs that may present a hazard, and on safe loading and unloading procedures.
- If employees use forklifts or other equipment to load/unload slabs, employers must comply with relevant OSHA regulations.
- Visually check racks for any damage prior to loading and unloading.
- All unnecessary personnel should be kept away from the area while slabs are being loaded or unloaded.
Following these suggestions and always keeping safety in mind should result in a better, safer work environment.
This is a broad overview of one of the many topics pertaining to fabricator safety. TechneTrain Inc. has a full line of training and reference materials with detailed information on these and other OSHA compliance requirements for the surface fabrication industry. For more information visit www.technetrainonline.com or call 800-852-8314.