Workers in stone slab shops have unique challenges in the workplace — from handling slabs that are heavy and awkwardly shaped for lifting, to avoiding injuries caused by falling materials. It's important to know how to prevent injuries and stay healthy and safe while working in this challenging environment.
There is a 1 in 2 chance that a worker in a stone shop may have a slab-handling related injury in the next 5 years*. These types of injuries result in the injured worker missing an average of 48.6 days of work, leading to a significant loss in productivity.
The most common reason for injuries related to slab handling is the lack of use of mechanical tools to assist in the lifting process. Stone slabs are large, flat, relatively thin, and although they look deceptively light, are heavy and awkward to move. The use of mechanical devices such as dollies, hoists, and cranes can significantly reduce the risk of injury from manual lifting.
Top three risks and what you can do to help prevent injuries
One of the most dangerous activities in the stone industry involves unloading slabs from flatbed trucks or shipping containers. This incident description shows the impact of these injuries:
"A worker was offloading slabs from a delivery truck. Once the load was unwrapped, a slab, weighing approximately 350 lbs., fell off the truck and landed on the worker. The worker sustained multiple injuries."
How to prevent injuries when unloading stone slabs:
- All workers should avoid standing in the "fall shadow" while unloading the truck. The "fall shadow" is the area where the slab may fall on its side when stored vertically or raised on a lifting device.
- Ensure the truck is parked on a level surface, use outriggers if necessary, and level the bed of the truck as much as possible.
- Inspect the container, truck, A-frames, and poles to identify hazardous conditions such as cracks, rust, bends, or any worn wood footings.
- Note weather conditions and plan accordingly. Slabs are particularly unstable and dangerous in windy conditions.
- Remove the bracing in sequence to keep workers clear of bundles that may shift or that are unstable.
- Use mechanical devices such as truck cranes, forklifts, and overhead cranes to unload the slabs. These devices must be rated for the weight to be lifted.
- When unloading slabs, never have a person support a slab alone. Slabs must be restrained to prevent unintentional movement of the load.
Manually lifting slabs should always be the last resort and only be done in cases where using mechanical devices is not possible. This incident description explains the impact of injuries when lifting slabs manually:
"An installer was lifting and carrying a piece of stone with 5 co-workers, when a co-worker beside him started to lose his grip. The worker took on more weight, which jolted his left shoulder and caused immediate pain."
How to prevent injuries when manually lifting and moving stone slabs:
- Avoid manually lifting and moving stone slabs. If manual lifting is necessary, you must do a risk assessment on the task and implement risk controls. You can use this push/pull/carry calculator to determine suggested maximum weights that can be carried and the force that can be used when pushing and pulling slabs.
- Use mechanical devices such as cranes, forklifts, slab dollies, suction lifts, scissor clamps, etc. to lift the slab whenever possible. These devices must be rated for the weight to be lifted.
- Determine the travel path and the locations where the load will be set down in advance of lifting.
- Never lift or carry a stone slab in the flat (horizontal) position. Lifting the slab on the end in the vertical position, helps prevent the slab from breaking and potentially causing an injury.
Moving stone slabs and countertops up and down stairs can be complex as travel paths are not always clearly defined and spaces are often awkward and constrained. The irregularity of stair configurations increases the risk for injuries. This incident description explains the impact of injuries when carrying countertops up stairs.
"A worker was carrying a marble countertop, weighing approximately 200 lbs., up 2 flights of stairs with a co-worker. The worker was walking backwards and had to navigate many twists and turns and, as a result, the worker sustained a sprain to his left knee."
How to prevent injuries when carrying countertops upstairs:
- Pre-plan with the prime contractor to identify and coordinate the safest way to move countertops into the construction area.
- Consider using a crane to lift the slabs through wall openings instead of using the stairs. The crane must be rated for the weight to be lifted.
*Based on 5 years of WorkSafeBC claims data (2015-2019)
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