Most shops carry workers compensation insurance, which workers trade the right to sue for immediate health care and a guaranteed weekly benefit to replace lost wages while injured. What few know is that the workers comp insurance doesn’t prevent the injured employee from suing others that had even a minor part in the accident.
In this case, a worker was helping unload granite from an open top shipping container, one of those huge ocean going, metal containers. Somehow the worker was crushed severely when 8,000 pounds of granite broke loose and pinned him against the side of the container.
The employee sued the crane company whose crane was used for unloading the container, the Italian granite company that loaded the slabs into the container, a Swiss shipping company, the American owned granite distribution company, and the trucking company that delivered the container to the granite shop.
Of course all pointed the finger at the others, filing cross complaints in court. Everyone blamed all the others for the accident, which cost the worker two years of lost work, no doubt quite pleased with the $1.07 million dollar settlement.
This is exactly what will happen when granite fabricators start having health problems from working with hot granites or consumers start popping up with health problems that can potentially be traced back to a hot granite countertop. Everyone that touched that granite slab will be dragged into court, as well as the tooling companies that were used that created the dust.
The Attorneys have been adversting for granite countertop clients for a while now, but this one makes one realize just how important getting in front of the issue will be for the stone industry.
This lady may have a strong case, but what I read is more about her health problems being blamed on her granite countertop. I could be wrong, but I would have liked to have seen some mention that it was a high level Radon or radiation granite before pinning the blame on the countertop.
But the granite industry has left a problem hanging out there and this should be expected.
I hope you don’t find one, but it you do it can be handled. Unless you sell a lot of exotics, you won’t have many bad tops. If you do find one, there are three Issues.
Who pays for tearing it out?
What do I do with it once it is torn out?
What kind of liability am I facing?
Let’s look at them one by one.
Who pays for tearing it out?
You do, and if you are very lucky, all it will cost you is a new granite countertop. If you wait till a lawyer makes you take it out, it will cost you ten times more, or a thousand times more. Even if you forget about doing the right thing, you will still want to remove a hot top out of self interest.
We sold some granite before we had the equipment to test, so we stayed with granites that had been shown to be low in previous scientific tests. Had we know how much granite slabs could vary, we most likely wouldn’t have sold till we had a meter. First thing we did when we got our meters was check our old scrap that we had kept for that very reason (had to learn what type of meter to buy, it took months to learn).
Had I sold a hot one, I would have gone back to the customer and told them it had to be replaced. I would have looked to my slab supplier for free replacement slabs, I would have eaten the labor and overhead. Only fair way I can see of dealing with this.
What to do with it once it is torn out?
Depends on how hot it is and what state you live in. Some states have laws on this stuff (NORM or TE NORM). In our state, there is no law, but if it was really hot, hazardous disposal companies will accept the material. Break it up (mask, gloves, and disposable chem hazard suit), put it in steel barrels, and ship it to the haz mat company. It will be expensive.
If it was under, say five times background, the local land fill might take it. Of course some landfills have radiation detectors that will go off over certain levels, you might get your load of granite quarantined till the state rad dept checks it over.
We are working with a new nuclear fuel processor on a possible method of grinding any high level waste into beach sand size chunks, then the sand can be ran through their processor and turned into Uranium Fuel for a nuclear power plant. Lot of things will have to be ironed out, govt permission obtained on all of this, but by 2011, this could be a method of disposal. Other fuel processors might do this as well, not for free, there will be some costs of grinding, transporting and processing, but the cost will be offset by what fuel is obtained from the rock.
Most likely, only the highest levels of stone, say 60 ppm and up, will be processed into nuclear fuel. Some will be border line, can be processed, but will cost almost as much as hazardous waste disposal.
What kind of liability am I facing?
I don’t know. One can take the emitted radiation, figure a dose/risk ration, and get a chance of cancer per thousand people exposed. What you can’t measure is how the consumer is going to react when they found out you sold them a radioactive countertop. Some will freak out, some will be very angry, some will call their lawyer, some will be understanding and accept a tear out and replacement. If the first three scenarios play out, they might have someone else tear out the top, figuring on someone else replacing it. After all, they will want the top for evidence.
Even if you tear out the top, mark it and document the stuffing out of it. Save at least three 12″ x 12″ sections. Hot, medium, and low levels. It might be prudent to save the entire top if you can store it away from human contact, a field or an used building, with it clearly marked. Keep it a few years, but keep the samples forever. People might accept a replacement and call it even, till one of them develops health problems. Save the evidence.
Some shops will rush out and hire a lawyer for advice, which is a good thing. Make sure the lawyer has some experience in these specific matters, or hire a consultant to bring them up to speed. No doubt if you replace a top, you will attempt to get some sort of document signed by the homeowner, but there are some rights that can not be signed away, especially if the people are not 100% educated on what rights they are throwing away.
And children, those under 18 years of age, can never sign away rights, nor can their parents sign away the children’s rights. A judge and jury will always restore those rights. So get legal advice, but do the right thing regardless of the cost. If something should happen later, a judge and jury will look more favorably on you
Many shops and slab yards are getting past the shock and admitting there is a problem. A problem with existing inventory and a problem with past sales. Now what?
The first thing that was started was a method of measuring granite blocks prior to purchase. Many of these stone operations are not vertically intergrated, slab processers buy the blocks from quarry owners, saw them then polish them. Importers buy the bundles and ship them to the slab yards who sell to the fabricators. By testing the block with a scintillator or geiger counter, the slab processor can increase his yeild of low radiation slabs. Stop as much of the bad stuff from reaching the saw as possible, then as it starts into the polishing line, another reading needs done to reject any slabs that have hot spots. Or mark them so that the hot spots can be cut out.
We are working with an instrument maker to develop a process, both to read 6′ thick blocks and 1 1/8″ thick slabs. It will be possible to do a Cat Scan type reading, showing where the radiation is coming from so a decision can be made to buy or reject the block.
So if the material is culled twice before polishing, then a final check is done before loading into the container for shipment, a lot of the cost has been eliminated. Fewer hot slabs…
From that point, we are working on developing a testing standard coupled with some sort of certification for the slab yards that makes sure they have proper meters, proper methods, yearly callibration, as well as spot checks by a third party. In return, the slab yard gets a sticker program showing that they are testing and being proactive on the issues. Each slab yard will have their own equipment to check the radiation level of each slab and stickers for a range of values, from low level up to the maxium level allowed.
A series of visits will be part of the program, spot checking that the slab yard is measuring properly, their meter is still accurate, and that records are being kept. Visits will be random, unannounced, making every effort to motivate the slab yard to keep on top the process.
The final test will be before a slab is sold, every customer seeing with their own eyes a quick scan of THEIR slab.
The purpose of all this is to provide fabricators a safe haven from future problems. Stand with us, help us get the hot granite out of inventory and out of homes, and we are your best friend. No doubt there will be some installed granite tops that need removed. Slab yards will have to provide the material and the fabricator the labor, no way out of that. Far better to deal with this head on than to wait for someone to hire a lawyer.
Really this is so simple. Business will go on for the smart businesses and those who continue to deny the issues will reap what they sow.
Slab yards and fabricators have already started signing on. If you wish to join, send us an email. We will help.
Something that few countertop shops think about is who to call when something like this happens. After all, we are good at fabricating tops, but usually no expert at seeing chinks in our armour or responding well to a problem involving bad press such as this granite/radiation issue.
Here is a firm that is exert in these matters. Located in Southern California, Bernstein Crisis Management serves clients all over the US, and some internationally. The Internet makes it very easy to service most client needs and keeps costs affordable.
They provide 24/7 access to its president, Jonathan Bernstein, and a network of carefully screened and highly experienced crisis management experts who are on call nationwide and in many markets overseas. Bernstein Crisis Management engages in the full spectrum of crisis management services: crisis prevention, response, planning, training and simulations. Created in January 1994, they promise their clients direct assistance from senior-level crisis management professionals.
Simply put, Jonathan Bernstein or — if he’s already 100% engaged, one of his skilled alternates — is directly available to the CEO or the designated client contact, to help the organization survive any breaking crisis and/or to plan for avoiding future crises.
Bernstein Inc serves clients that may suffer or are suffering threats to people or property, reputation damage, business interruption and/or loss of share value. Their services are also in high demand to help clients avoid and/or minimize the impact of future crises. They also focus on making clients not merely prepared, but actually resistant to the prospect and effect of crises.