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Safely Handling Stone Slabs

Working with stone slabs includes professions of different sorts. In the stone industry there are several professions that must demonstrate awareness of safely handling stone slabs. In fact all along the supply chain there are points where safety hazards exist when slabs are being handled. In this article we will look at some specific work related tasks that require knowledge of slab handling safety. We will also mention some equipment that factors into safely handling stone slabs.

Why Slabs Are Dangerous

It is not complicated or hard to understand. Stone slabs are dangerous simply because of their weight. The website for OSHA said the following about the weight of stone slabs in a SHIB from 2008:

Stone slabs can vary in weight from several hundred to several thousand pounds.

It is easy to the hazard when it is described in writing. Yet, when working around stone slabs it is not as easy to remain aware of the dangers. Let's look at when it is important to be aware of slab safety.

When Slab Safety Matters

Slab safety matters at all times. This includes all points of contact in the supply chain. Actually, even when nobody is handling the stone it is important to be mindful of safety guidelines. Having safety requirements and recommendations to protect workers from injury and death is imperative. Some of the key tasks and locations in which slab handling safety is important are:

  • Unloading Stone from Delivery Trucks
  • Transporting Stone Slabs from Delivery Trucks to Storage Areas
  • Placing Stone Slabs Into Storage Racks
  • Moving Slabs from One Work Station to Another
  • Removing Stone from Storage Areas
  • Transporting Slabs from Facilities to Transport Trucks
  • Loading Slabs Onto Transport Vehicles
  • Slabs Sitting in Storage Areas When Nobody Is Handling

That last one in the list above might seem like it shouldn't be there. But technically it is possible and we will see why in a bit. But first let's consider some of the other environments in that list.

Safety Hazards During Loading & Unloading

One task that requires safety awareness is loading and unloading slabs from and to transport and delivery trucks. In fact, there are several ways that workers can be injured when loading or unloading transport vehicles with stone slabs.

Loading and unloading slab transporters requires lifting those extremely heavy slabs up. If any part of the material handling equipment fails, whether it is a lifter, clamp, boom or something as simple as a piece of slab lifter connection hardware it can cause the load to fall and cause injury to the person spotting the stone slab.

Another task that requires knowledge and awareness when it comes to handling stone slabs is unloading delivery containers. Slabs are often times bundled in containers and if the worker unloading the container is not familiar with the hazards, injuries and even fatalities could occur. For example, bundles are often times shipped enclosed in a structural support built to contain the bundles so they do not slide or shift in transit. Removing the support from these bundles improperly or at the wrong time causes them to collapse. Anyone in the stone fall shadow will suffer injury or worse. Thus, safety is of the utmost importance when unloading is being done.

Safety Guidelines & Recommendations

Because of the hazards associated with loading and unloading stone, the following recommendations should be applied:

  • Before beginning the task of loading or unloading stone slabs, plan the task and the role each participant will play in the task.
  • Create and put into practice procedures for safely handling and unpacking stone slabs and bundles.
  • Make sure that the equipment is built for the load and the task it will be used to carry out.
  • Ensure that all equipment used for loading and unloading is not damaged or defective before it is used for each session.
  • Instruct and train workers on how to properly load and unload stone slabs to and from transport vehicles.
  • Foster a safe work environment by promoting safety awareness.

Safe Stone Slab Storage

Even when a slab is not being handled it can be a safety hazard. We said earlier that we would circle back to this thought. Stone slabs pose safety hazards even if they are just sitting in a storage rack. This is, again, because of their weight. However, the reason for the hazard is not the stone. Rather, it is because of factors not having anything to do with the stone. Faulty stone slab storage equipment or even debris in an unclean storage area can lead to rack failure. How so?

Storage equipment that is old fails due to damage or even deterioration from rust or other contaminants. Imagine that there is rack loaded with stone slabs and because of natural wear and tear from not being made of an anti-rust material, it gradually weakens over time. Then, one day it is no longer able to support the weight it once did. If someone is near the rack when it falls, it can cause injury or worse.

Another factor that can cause stone storage equipment to fail is debris from the area getting into the sockets that the support posts slide into. The top holes are not as difficult to inspect as the bottom ones are. If debris fill up the bottom holes in the base of a storage rack, the poles do not support the intended weight and fail. Again, anyone in the area when the failure occurs can be injured.

Safely Storing Stone Slabs

Because of the potential for failure, the following recommendations for storing stone slabs serve as a guide to safer stone slab storage:

  • Only use storage racks and other equipment that are constructed for withstanding the load and forces under which they will serve.
  • Use racks that are equipped with securing systems to prevent the stone slabs from shifting or sliding.
  • Proper installation is key. So be sure racks are installed and set up correctly. Even the best equipment will fail if not used properly.
  • Maintain the storage equipment being used so it stays sturdy. Replacing worn parts and keeping the rack free of debris contributes to its strength over time.
  • Implement storage placement and removal procedures to ensure that workers are always clear of the fall shadow when a stone is hoisted into the air.
  • Remove any damaged or deteriorated storage racks since these pose a safety hazard.
  • Perform regular inspections of storage equipment to detect potential issues by looking for:
    • Cracked, bent, or broken support posts.
    • Malformed or bent structural parts of the rack.
    • If the rack has wooden parts, look for splits or deterioration.
    • Evidence of the rack being overloaded.
    • Posts or uprights not seated properly in the sockets.

Stone slab storage need not be a silently developing hazard. By implementing a series of practices that involve procedures, inspections, and protocols, maintaining a safe storage area for stone slabs is attainable.

Stone Slab Material Handling Safety

The last area to which attention should be given is the handling (transporting, or moving) of stone slabs within the fabrication shop, warehouse, or slab yard. As we noted above, there are occasions when safely handling stone slabs comes into play right inside a facility. For example, moving the slabs through the fabrication process might involve taking pieces of stone from one machine to the next. Depending on how the shop is set up, this might happen multiple times during the process.

Even if slabs are not ported from on workstation to another, they still have to get into the machine. So, at the very least stone slabs get handled going onto a machine and coming off it.

Moving a stone slab from one area to another requires many of the same principles we have already listed, explained, or mentioned. We won't become overly redundant here but we will briefly mention the principles behind safely transporting stone material in the shop.

Practices for Safely Moving Stone Slabs Within A Facility

  • Make efforts to avoid having to manually lift stone slabs.
  • Ensure that any dollies used to move stone material are able to hold the weight of the stone being placed on them.
  • Have human support on both ends of the dolly when it is carrying a load.
  • If using a scissor clamp for lifting, choose a secure place on the slab.
  • If using suction cups, make sure they are rated for the weight they will be carrying.
  • Avoid using scissor clamps on equipment that is on uneven surfaces.
  • Always stay clear of the fall shadow when moving a stone slab with any equipment.
  • Only raise stone slabs as high as necessary to put them on the transport equipment.
  • When using forklifts, only handle loads that are within the rated capacity of the machine being used.
  • Remove wood supports from bundles in shipping containers in an order that does not weaken the support of the structure.

The information in this article is not exhaustive. However, it will no doubt give you an idea of techniques and practices that are effective at reducing the risk of accidents in a warehouse, fabrication shop, or slab yard. Implementing as many of these points as possible will allow you to safely handle stone slabs.