Stonemasonry is a profession that is equal parts hard work and artistry. As a stonemason, you will work hard to craft the granite, marble, limestone, slate, sandstone and other materials in your projects while giving them a uniquely beautiful shape and carved surface. You use your skills to carve blocks of stone or to lay and fit the stonework within the project. This could include repairing statues or memories, making and fitting stonework such as archways, working on brand new buildings, headstones and ornamental garden pieces, or repairing old buildings and monuments. The finished products can be gorgeous and can stand proudly for many centuries.
Recently there has been an increase in demand when it comes to stonemasonry jobs, as many modern architects and designers have used marble, granite and other stones in the décor of their buildings. These building materials look luxurious and they stand the test of time, making them very desirable.
Unfortunately, the increase in demand for stonemasonry has also lead to an increase in deaths and injuries in the workplace. Over the last few years in the UK, there has been an average of one death every 12 months in the stonework profession. These injuries vary, but the most common cause of injury is when a stonemason handles a large slab. Lifting and carrying these huge heavy stone slabs is a very risky task and there is the possibility of injury.
Stonemasons should undergo the appropriate construction health and safety training relevant to their profession so that they are aware of any risks that might occur. This health and safety training will cover the inherent risks within the profession, ensuring that the stonemason knows how to complete their job safely.
Occupational Hazards Associated With Stonemasonry
Lifting and putting down large slabs of stone is not the only risk which is prevalent in the day to day work of a stonemason. Also, the noise of cutting stone on the site can be dangerously loud and can lead to long term hearing problems. If you work around stonecutting machines and you experience a ringing in your ears or find it difficult to follow conversations or hear the television – you should see your doctor. Unfortunately, hearing loss is irreversible so the best course of action is to prevent it in the first place by wearing some form of hearing protection while doing your job.
Another common workplace injury associated with stonemasonry is upper limb disorders. These are usually caused by using vibrating hand tools. Over time, the vibrations will affect the bones, muscles, tendons and nerves of the arm and hand – causing numbness, the inability to hold a firm grip, pain and increased sensation, sensitivity to cold and much more. These effects can even spread up to the shoulders and neck. If you are a stonemason and you suffer from an aching or a burning sensation in your upper limbs you should visit the doctor.
Also, stonemasons have the medical risk of lung problems associated with breathing in stone dust.
These medical issues include asthma, silicosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. These diseases might not show any symptoms for years, but as stone dust accumulates in the lungs over a period of time it will start to damage the lung tissue. The lungs will eventually form scar tissue, which makes it very difficult to breathe. One of the main symptoms of this problem is a feeling of shortness of breath and a cough that won’t go away.
Another factor that might also affect stonemasons is working at height. Sometimes stonemasonry requires the use of scaffolding to reach projects that are high up, so workers must follow the appropriate health and safety procedures for working at height.
Tips for Safer Stonemasonry
If you are working as a stonemason, there are a number of things that you can do in order to ensure that your workplace is as safe as possible. First of all, the most important thing is to undergo the appropriate construction health and safety training to ensure that you know the risks involved and you can establish safe working procedures. Here are some other important tips to keep in mind:
- When storing large sheets of stone, they should not be kept in a way that involves balancing them on their edge. They are more likely to fall and crush workers around them.
- When moving a large stone slab, ensure that everyone else is out of the way.
- Stones should always be moved by someone who is competent and who has received the relevant health and safety training. The process should be supervised and carried out according to the right procedure.
- Keep in mind that natural stone can have fissured within it, which can cause it to crack or shatter in unexpected ways while you are handling it. This factor should be considered when you are moving the stone.
- Before moving a slab down from a vehicle or a storage facility, you should make sure that it is properly restrained and that all straps and lifting slings are secured correctly.
- When cutting stone, dust masks and breathing equipment should always be worn to prevent the inhalation of stone dust into the lungs.
- Stonecutting should take place within a well-ventilated environment. All dust that settles on surfaces should be cleaned as soon as possible.
- When working with power tools that emit vibrations, the right tools should be chosen which are ergonomically designed and will reduce the amount of vibration that travels up into the hands, arms and shoulders.
- In order to protect against work-related hearing loss – stonemasons should wear the relevant hearing protection equipment.
Stonemasonry can be an interesting and rewarding career, but there are a few dangers involved. With the right training, preparation and equipment you will be able to perform your job without any risk and enjoy a long and happy career in the field of stonemasonry.
Related Training Courses
- NEBOSH Construction Certificate
- NEBOSH Accident Investigation
- Environmental Awareness & Management Training
- Health and Safety Awareness
- SMSTS – Site Management Safety Training Scheme
- SMSTS Refresher
- SSSTS – Site Supervisor Safety Training Scheme
- SSSTS Refresher
- SEATS – Site Environmental Awareness Training Scheme
- Directors Role for Health and Safety
- Temporary Works Coordinator
- Temporary Works Supervisor
- Temporary Works General Awareness