Construction materials are often heavy and irregularly shaped, leading to considerable material handling challenges. In any facility that houses building materials, though, slabs of marble, granite, and stone may be the toughest items to store and transport. These unique materials require specialized equipment and proper training to keep staff safe.
Luckily, experts at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have put together a comprehensive Safety and Health Information Bulletin that addresses this issue head-on. Here are the most important takeaways from that publication, along with a few other tips we’ve learned along the way:
Choose Storage Racks That Are Designed for Heavy Sheet Materials
Perhaps the most dangerous thing about stone building materials is that they’re incredibly heavy. Larger units can weigh 4,000 pounds or more. It is imperative to store such objects in racks that can handle these loads.
Choose racking that’s made from thick, heavy-duty steel tubing, such as a Sheet Material Rack from BHS. This model is as tough as they come, and it’s finished with a powder coat that resists abrasion for added longevity. Four-way fork pockets make the unit easy to reposition at any time.
Inspect All Racking Before Loading
During loading and unloading, lesser racks may sustain minor dents and scratches that can lead to an eventual failure. That’s why it’s important to inspect racks before adding a load, in addition to periodic inspections as part of a comprehensive infrastructure plan.
Discourage Manual Lifting At All Times
Not all stone slabs weigh thousands of pounds, but that’s no reason to allow staff to lift them by hand. Even a two-person lift, recommended by OSHA for all materials that weigh more than 50 pounds, is not enough when handling stone.
Instead, be sure to supply material handling equipment that’s rated for the load. Cranes and lift trucks, combined with straps, clamps, or hooks, will prevent musculoskeletal injuries while moving stone slabs. Just make sure to train staff to secure loads completely before lifting.
Train Employees to Avoid the “Fall Shadow”
The first rule of working with marble or granite sheets is simple: Never stand in the slab’s “fall shadow,” or the area in front of or behind a slab stored vertically, or raised on a lifting device. That way, even if a slab topples or falls, staff can avoid the worst-case scenario.
Make and Implement a High-Quality Training Plan
One of the greatest dangers in material handling applications is the lack of pre-planned procedure. Before staff complete any lifting or storage task, management must identify any possible hazards, provide appropriate equipment, and educate staff on safety rules.
Improving Material Handling with Stone Sheets
The story that led to OSHA’s publication of the Bulletin covering storage and handling of granite, stone, and marble slabs is a tragic one. Between 1984 and 2006, the agency found, 46 workers lost their lives to fallen stone slabs. By 2008, OSHA administrators realized that they had to address the hazards of working with heavy sheet materials.
Not only did they publish the document mentioned here, they also issued serious fines to businesses that failed to provide appropriate material handling equipment for stone slabs. In 2009, one company was fined more than $1,000 simply for asking staff to lift these loads by hand, placing them within the fall shadow. This is despite the fact that no workers had been injured by a falling slab at the time of the citation.
Clearly, the nation’s workplace safety experts are concerned about the hazards of moving and storing stone. By following a few common-sense procedures, and by providing equipment that’s built for the challenge, every employer can safely work with slabs of stone, granite, and marble with remarkable efficiency.
“Hazards of Transporting, Unloading, Storing and Handling Granite, Marble and Stone Slabs.” OSHA. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, United States Department of Labor, 12 Aug. 2008. Web. 18 May 2017.
“Massachusetts Case Report: 05-MA-059.” CDC. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 27 Sept. 2006. Web. 18 May 2017.
“Violation Detail Nr: 311578298.” OSHA. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, United States Department of Labor, 24 Oct. 2009. Web. 18 May 2017.