Brick and stone construction is an ancient craft requiring great skill. Masons working with natural stone, and craftspeople laying manufactured bricks and blocks need meticulous patience to assemble piles of rubble into magnificent projects. They also require great stamina as working conditions are usually outdoors and at heights. Although masons and layers are different skills, they have something in common. Both use masonry cement and, historically, that always contained asbestos.
Bricklayer and Stone Mason Careers
Laypeople tend to lump masons and bricklayers in the same category. However, they’re two different trades within a similar construction class. The difference is in the building products they select and how they assemble them. Both use solid materials joined with a cement-based mortar or slurry that hardens to bond bricks and rocks. Until the 1980s, manufacturers normally added asbestos to the cement powder. That allowed better holding power as well as provided fire and heat resistance in chimneys.
Brick and stone craftspeople spend years apprenticing and understudying before beginning their professional careers or journeys. Like other skilled trades, there’s a lot to know about building masonry and brick structures that support great weights while looking good. Here’s what the individual trades do:
Masons tend to work with natural stone. That can be anything from granite to sandstone as there are hundreds of different natural building materials to choose from. Not taking anything away from bricklayers, but masons need an eye for their craft. It’s an art form. No two stones are the same. Often, stones have to be hammer and chisel shaped by the mason to make a fit.
Bricklayers have a more repetitive and predictable craft. They usually work with man-made building products like fired bricks and concrete blocks. Bricklayers, or brickies as they’re called on the job, normally saw-cut their materials to fit. This creates a lot of dust on the work site that’s breathed in by anyone nearby.
Although brick and stone work are two different procedures, many tradespeople cross over and work with both materials. Stone is considered more difficult and challenging so many bricklayers avoid stone masonry. However, most masons are comfortable in working with both brick and stone.
Asbestos Applications in Stone Masonry and Bricklaying
Bricklaying and masonry workers are considered moderate risks for illnesses caused by asbestos exposure. They were exposed to asbestos every day of their working lives up until environmental controls were implemented in the late 1980s. Masons and bricklayers were somewhat less at-risk than other trades like floorlayers and insulators who directly handled asbestos-contaminated building products. That’s because masons and bricklayers normally worked outdoors with good ventilation.
Regardless, stone masons and bricklayers still got their share of asbestos exposure. Asbestos was usually present in their building products when they received them. Rarely was asbestos added directly by the tradesperson. Polluted products were usually dry cement powder, kilned bricks and precast concrete blocks already containing asbestos.
Workers became exposed to airborne asbestos particles in these ways:
- Adding dry cement powder to concrete mixes. Asbestos particles detached from the cement powder in dust clouds.
- Cutting bricks and building products containing asbestos. This also created asbestos contaminated dust.
- Demolishing old masonry and brick structures containing asbestos. Old mortar turns very dry and crumbly causing asbestos materials to be friable, a term meaning crumbling into fine powder.
- Being exposed to other building materials on construction sites. Masons and bricklayers were often on sites for long periods while other asbestos-contaminated materials were being installed.
Health Risks for Stone Masons and Bricklayers Exposed to Asbestos
Every bricklayer and mason exposed to asbestos carries the same health risks as other workers in different trades. The danger level depends on the duration of exposure and the degree of asbestos ingestion.
Masons and bricklayers worked with two mortar additive asbestos products:
- Chrysotile is sometimes known as white asbestos. It was the most common asbestos additive and not considered as harmful as the second type.
- Amphibole asbestos is far more deadly. High heat applications like fireplaces and chimneys used amphibole asbestos.
Mesothelioma is the biggest health risk that masons and bricklayers face. Mesothelioma happens when airborne asbestos fibers get trapped in the lungs or digestive systems and cause cancerous tumors. Exposed workers can develop mesothelioma 10-30 years after primary exposure. Often, diagnosis is made too late for effective treatment.
Compensation for Mesothelioma Victims
If you suffer from mesothelioma, you may be eligible for compensation through legal action. Payments for personal injury, loss of income and medical expenses may be awarded. Courts have also ruled on settlements with punitive damages and families may be approved to file wrongful death lawsuits.