The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has recently reissued a set of guidelines and publicised their safety sheet for stonemasons, who of course form an important specialist and skilful sub-sector of the construction industry.
To be a stonemason involves a lot of training and knowledge of one’s craft, and many would argue that they are more aware than the average building sub-contractor of the potential hazards that are presented by their work. Nevertheless, here are the highlights of the new advice.
We are advised, for example, that the handling and storing of large sheet stone slabs carries with it a high risk of serious personal injury unless undertaken in a safe manner. Due to their size and configuration, such slabs are potentially unstable when stored on edge.
It is easy to mock such statements of the apparently obvious, but 6 people have been killed in the last five years after being struck by falling stone slabs during these storage and handling operations, so it is important that the basic precautions are observed.
The official safety notice for stonemasonry covers these points:
Depending upon the type of rock, slabs can fail during handling in unpredictable ways. Stone, being a natural material, often has faults and fissures and may crack or shatter unexpectedly while, or as a result of, being handled.
Actions required are:
Employers, self-employed contractors and any person engaged in the handling of slabs of stone should review their safety measures to make sure that -
- No person is in the hazard zone where a slab might fall whilst it is being handled
- Safe systems of work have been drawn up to ensure that slab handling has been planned by a competent person, is adequately supervised and is carried out safely
- Slabs are always properly restrained during loading and unloading operations, either from vehicles or from storage when any person could be in the hazard zone into which a slab might fall from its rack, or fail during lifting. (This includes during the attachment or detachment of straps or lifting slings, and especially when loading/unloading vehicles)
- Racked storage systems are designed to prevent slabs toppling over or slipping out from the base. Traditional ‘A’ frame storage is not suitable unless modifications have been undertaken that achieve the above objectives. Storage systems on vehicles should be similarly safeguarded
- Employees are given the necessary and appropriate information, instructions and proper training on the dangers of handling large stone slabs and the need to follow safe working practices (including how to use the appropriate lifting equipment and Personal Protective Equipment or PPE)
- Safe lifting equipment and PPE is provided, maintained, used and inspected
It may well be the case that it is not only the dedicated stonemasonry team members that find themselves handling stone slabs. Very often another building worker may be instructed to take care of a load from a delivery vehicle, for example. In such cases, even more care must be taken due to the likely unfamiliarity of the person with these rules.
For matters of materials handling, overall construction safety, and managing the sometimes fraught interface with the regulators, firms should enlist the regular hands-on support and advice that comes from working with McCormack Benson Health & Safety.