There’s a Story, Part II

Last month, I noted how initial data on a study of possible radiation exposure when dry-cutting granite generated an information distribution of a summary, two analyses disputing the initial study and a war of wordage … but something just short of a story. At least, that’s how I felt.

Add a government spokesperson and some statistics, though, and apparently it’s all right for one of the nation’s newspaper chains.

Under the headline of “Granite countertop cutters at risk of deadly radiation exposure,” Scripps Howard News Service writer Isaac Wolf went over the same ground with most of the same sources (with the exception of the Conference of Radiation Control Program Directors).

One new addition, though, is a comment from Diana Petterson, a spokesperson for the federal Department of Labor. Petterson noted that not much research had been done on the subject, “but,with the increasing residential use of granite countertops, more studies are underway.”

It’s probably a bit too cynical to note that the federal government seems to be taking notice of a market boom some two years after it stopped growing. Still, it’s good to hear from the Department of Labor on issues of stone fabrication and safety. Stone Business has tried, on several occasions in the past three years, to learn more about this, especially with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and we’re still waiting for a call back.

OSHA also figured in the Scripps Howard report. After a Marble Institute of America (MIA) spokesperson noted – well, contended, since that verb was used twice in dealing with the MIA – that stone shops were working to keep their air clean, Mr. Wolf wrote the following:

Federal figures tell a different story. Inspecting 133 of the nation’s 64,000 stone cutting facilities from October 2007 to September 2008, authorities from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration – part of the U.S. Department of Labor – issued 185 citations for respiratory violations and 54 citations for air contaminants, according to OSHA data.

Frankly, using figures from October 2007 to September 2008 seemed a bit odd, until you find that it’s an annual government fiscal-year 2008 summary report. What Mr. Wolf didn’t note was that, with those 133 inspections, 72 shops (or 54 percent of the total) were cited for respiratory violations, and 28 (or 21 percent) got a write-up for air contaminants. That’s still way too many, but multiple violations at one shop can drive up the annual totals.

However, let’s move the bar a little closer, and take a detailed look at more-recent data – from September 1, 2008 to the end of this August. By the way, you can do this too by going here and entering the Standard Industrial Code (SIC) 3281 for “Cut Stone and Stone Products,” just in case you want to snoop on what OSHA finds at other shops.

Of the 199 OSHA visits to stone facilities, it found problems with respiratory protection 59 times, or 29.6 percent of all inspections. It wrote up 134 citations, of which 73 involved fines. OSHA found air-contamination problems during 15 inspections (7.5 percent of all visits), with 38 written citations and 10 fineable incidents. (And, only six of the inspections cited silica dust – the direct by-product of fabrication – as the air contaminant.)

The numbers from the last 12 months, from a safety standpoint, still need improvement. But all of them are far better than the conditions OSHA found in its fiscal 2008 year-end report.

And I didn’t miss that figure of the “64,000 stone-cutting facilities” … it’s a number that baffles me, too.

— Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at Stone Business Online.

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