Fabricators' Safety Focus
The Perilous Elements of Change
Peter J. Marcucci
Safety Contributor

Change - it's inevitable. All things change: sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, by choice or by force. Our earth, its life forms, our bodies, and our minds are constantly changing.

Lately we've seen how governments change the lives of millions and conversely, how millions can change a government. When a corporate CEO makes a change in production, it can affect thousands; a change in fuel prices can affect millions, and a change in the weather can be disastrous. For most of us, change is difficult even when it is a welcome change; how well we deal with it can determine our future and happiness.

But what about when we elect to make change; to take something beautiful created by nature and change it into something to be admired and useful like that granite slab standing harmlessly in your shop waiting to be changed into to a countertop? When we elected to change its form, we also elected to take on the associated risks involved with that change... but wait... let's rewind for a moment and look at the risks that were involved in getting that slab to this point.

Before it arrived in your yard it was placed on a truck or container from a wholesaler or a manufacturer. Before that, it was a block at the quarry waiting to be cut into slabs. That block, before it was quarried and was still a part of our earth was quite harmless, but when the decision was made to unearth it, it brought change to all those who handled it.

Quarries are dangerous places, the perils are many, and those who work there put their lives and health at risk every day. Many a quarried block has been brought to the saw shed stained with the blood of a quarryman. If you don't believe me, watch the "Quarry's Crash" episodes on YouTube. Now, let's fast forward back to that slab standing harmlessly, shall we?

The elements that give natural stone slabs their color and veining are also the elements that create a constant source of danger to all of us who shape and handle those slabs as they make their way through your shop. The dust created while shaping (even wet shaping) can eventually catch up with us and affect our health if we are not careful.

Fortunately, different solutions do exist for different parts of the country. In the south, for example, a covered yet open shop architecture with large fans to move dust is just the thing for the fabricator who is cutting or grinding. In the more northern states, dedicated rooms with serious draft or dust collection systems installed are a great way to go. Or "better yet, go wet," works everywhere.

But no matter how your shop cuts or shapes, it's important that at the end of the day the floors are wet down, swept, and then hosed down to wash all remaining dust and slurry into the drains.

In our southwest Florida market area, eighty percent of our very demanding clientele make six and seven figure incomes, live in very large homes and require large 3cm countertops with as few seams as possible. We all know that keeping high-end customers happy means giving them what they want when they want it, so it's no surprise that another area of great concern is the safe handling of large countertops within the shop and at our customer's homes.

Hand-carrying the extreme weight and dimensions of large 3cm countertops these days is enough to damage backs, rotator cuffs, knee joints, elbows and wrists. I think everyone reading this will agree that 3cm slab countertops fall into two categories: heavy and very heavy.

Today's fabricators and installers must be cognizant of the perils that exist while lifting and handling these materials. your long-term health and success depends on it. New employees should be trained in safe lifting procedures and may require observation for the first few months to proper technique. Always use your head first and your back second.

Have you ever asked yourself, "Where would we be without the company forklift?" It's the workhorse and best friend of every shop and all who use it regularly, yet we never really think about how dependent we are on it until a mechanical problem renders it unusable and it becomes a roadblock in the shop.

Forklifts are a key production asset for the fabrication shop but can easily become a liability if not used properly. The movement of slabs by an inexperienced operator can sometimes be a daunting task eventually winding up as a disaster. If your operator doesn't have the experience needed to work safely, let him or her start by moving crates or pallets around the yard to learn the basics.

A lift truck certification program can also go a long way in training, while helping to point out the mistakes of other lift operators through the years. The forty minute videos that safety course trainers use to show the past misfortunes of careless operators are a great way of getting a point across. A forklift is a tool to be respected by all who use it, and lack of respect will cause great harm to materials, the operator or his helper.

There's an old saying that goes like this, "You're not an expert at using a tool until you get blood on it." A true but a harsh lesson, don't you think? Have you ever taken the time to watch someone who is an expert at using hand tools for cutting or grinding an edge? Their body becomes a precision machine and their hands become an extension of that machine.

Their hand-eye coordination is at peak performance as they move left to right, shaping an edge to perfection. They don't force the tool at all; they let the blade or grinding wheel do the work. When they cut a radius, there is no great pressure used in getting it done; again, they let the tool do the work. They know that force creates heat, the heat degrades the metal and then the blade cracks (usually between the drill holes) causing dangerous fragmentation at high RPM. Blades that should have held together come apart causing injury to the user or the person next to him.

The use of silicon carbide or carborundum grinding wheels are a great way to shape and hone, but come with their own set of precautions. If they are mounted on a tool with an RPM rating too high, they can explode, sending the user to the floor or worse--to the hospital.

Also, many a fabricator has mounted a grinding wheel on their right-angle tool only to find out the hard way that the wheel had been dropped on the floor by a previous user as it explodes into his or her body or face. If it's dropped on the floor, drop it in the trash before someone else uses it.

In closing, it is noteworthy to mention that even the best of managers, using the most robust safety program, can only protect just so much--it's up to you, the fabricator, to take responsibility for yourself. See, hear and feel what is going on around you.

My good friend Robert Krol from International Artistic Stone, Inc. of Sarasota, FL, once told me that, "There is only one way to keep a shop safe--watch your people, stay organized and change what isn't working."

Change is inevitable. Hopefully this column has aided in changing your life for the better. Thanks for reading.

Peter Marcucci is a 25-year senior fabricator at European Marble Co., Inc. Sarasota, FL. Send any comments to pjmgsxr@aol.com .

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