Frederick M. Hueston, PhD

I was once again eating breakfast at my favorite greasy spoon, listening the same ole stories from the same ole regulars. Wait a minute, I thought. I am one of those old regulars who tells the same ole stories… except mine are stone stories.

I was sipping my coffee when my phone rang, just as the ole Admiral was finishing his joke about working as a greeter at Walmart. (Since you asked, I’ll tell you the joke at the end of this story.) I answered the phone, and it was an old friend of mine from out in California. He related how he had filed for an OSHA inspection, and they put silica monitors on all his employees. The results came back showing two of his employees had a high silica exposure reading. He was really shocked, he told me, because they never ever do anything dry. Everything they do is wet, which should contain all the silica dust. He was totally puzzled.  I asked him all kinds of questions to try and get to the bottom of his problem, and nothing he said clued me into why he should have such high readings. It just so happened that I was going out to the west coast in a week, and I told him I could stop by and see if I could find anything. I admit I was very curious about this one – I suspected it might have implications for a lot of stone fabricators.

My departure date finally rolled around, and I was off to Cali. I couldn’t wait to get to my friend’s shop. After a five-hour flight with an eight-hour layover (which is another story), I finally arrived, picked up my rental car and was off to my friend’s shop. 

I pulled up to a very nice shop. It was very clean on the outside, and knowing my friend, I assumed it would be just as nice in the work area. Joe came out the door as I pulled up and greeted me with a chai from Starbucks. It had been years since I’d seen him, and I was surprised he remembered my favorite drink. 

He took me into the shop where several employees were working. I noted that the shop was clean, and I wanted to stay and try to see where all the silica was coming from, but I had to get to my other inspection. I asked him what time they opened in the morning, and he told me the guys get in right at 7 o’clock. I said, “Great, I’ll be there waiting for them.” One of the perks of getting old is I get up really early every morning – plus I was still on east coast time. I said my goodbyes and was off to my other inspection.

I got up early the next morning – well, early for Cali time. I got dressed, stopped by Five Bucks for a chai and was off to Joe’s shop. I pulled up to the shop about 6:45 a.m. and waited for the guys to show up. I had just finished my chai when two of the workers pulled up. They were very friendly and invited me in as they opened the shop. I watched them get ready for the day. They walked across the floor and switched on all the breakers to the machines and then fired up the forklift and went outside to retrieve some slabs for the day’s work.  As I watched them working I noticed something that would solve the silica issue. Can you guess what it was? I couldn’t wait for Joe to get there to tell him the news.

Finally, at around 8 a.m. Joe shows up, again with a cup of chai for me. I was so excited to tell him what I found, I put down the chai and told him to follow me out to the shop. Here is what I told him:

“Joe, you told me that your shop was totally wet. That is, you do everything wet and do not cut anything dry. While that is true, there is a problem with dry silica dust floating in the air. You want to know where it is coming from? It’s coming from your two workers who open every morning. You see, the floor dries overnight and there is a layer of silica dust on the floor from the day before. As they walk around and run the forklift in and out before any wet work starts, they are kicking up dust.” I looked him straight in the eye and said, “I bet you a steak dinner the two workers with high silica dust are the two who open the shop every morning.” His eyes got really wide. He looked at me, shook my hand and said, “Now I know why you get paid the big bucks!” We both laughed, and yes, another case solved. I told him all he has to do is wet the floor down before walking or driving on it and that should solve the problem.

Now for the Walmart greeter joke.  Bob was a popular Walmart greater, about 76 years old, and everyone including the employees loved him. His only problem was that he came in late every morning. Finally, the store manager asked to see Bob in his office. He sat Bob down and told him that he had to stop coming in to work so late. Bob told him he was sorry and said he would try and it wouldn’t happen again. As Bob was walking out the door, the store manager said, “Bob, weren’t you in the Navy? What did they say to you when you were late, then? Bob turned around and said, “Good Morning, Admiral, would you like a cup of coffee?”

The Stone Detective is a fictional character created by Dr. Frederick M. Hueston, PhD, written to be entertaining and educational. Dr. Fred has written over 33 books on stone and tile installations, fabrication and restoration and also serves as an expert for many legal cases across the world. Send your comments to Dr. Fred at .