Brick and Stonemasons

Brick and stonemasons are skilled craftsmen who build and repair structures like floors, walls, chimneys, and fireplaces. Historically, asbestos was added to the cement paste used to join materials in masonry and bricklaying. From mixing mortar to maintaining old structures, masons were frequently exposed to airborne asbestos dust.

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Brick and Stonemasons and Asbestos Exposure

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.

These professionals also require impressive stamina as they usually work outdoors and at varying heights.

Although stonemasons and bricklayers use different skills, they do similar work. Both create structures using bricks or stones held together with mortar — a cement paste that historically contained asbestos.

Bricklaying and masonry workers are considered moderate risks for illnesses caused by asbestos exposure.

Good Ventilation Prevented Severe Asbestos Exposure Risks

Masons and bricklayers had a lower risk of exposure than other tradespeople who directly handled asbestos-contaminated building products, such as floor layers and insulators. This is because brick and stonemasons usually worked outdoors with good ventilation.

How Brick and Stonemasons Were Exposed to Asbestos

Until the 1980s, manufacturers and masonry workers typically mixed asbestos into cement powder for added strength and durability. The addition of asbestos gave mortar better holding power and provided superior fire and heat resistance in chimneys.

Brick and stonemasons were exposed to airborne asbestos fibers in the following ways:

  • When dry cement powder was added to concrete mixes, asbestos particles in the cement powder formed hazardous dust clouds.
  • Cutting bricks and building products containing asbestos created asbestos-contaminated dust.
  • Demolishing old masonry and brick structures released asbestos into the air. Old mortar is very dry and brittle, allowing asbestos materials to crumble into a fine powder.
  • Masons and bricklayers were often exposed to other building materials on construction sites. The tradesmen worked on sites for long periods while other asbestos-contaminated materials were being installed.

Asbestos Used in Brick and Stonemasonry

Brick and stonemasons were exposed to asbestos every day of their working lives up until environmental controls were implemented in the late 1980s. While tradespeople rarely added asbestos to their materials directly, asbestos was already present in many of the building products that they received from suppliers and manufacturers.

Typical asbestos products used in stonemasonry and bricklaying included:

  • Dry cement powder
  • Kilned bricks
  • Precast concrete blocks

Masons and bricklayers worked with two different types of asbestos as mortar additive products:

  • Chrysotile Asbestos: Sometimes known as white asbestos, chrysotile was the most common asbestos additive in mortar. This form of asbestos is not considered as harmful as amphibole.
  • Amphibole Asbestos: A far more deadly form of asbestos. Tradespeople used amphibole asbestos in high-heat applications like fireplaces and chimneys.
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Brick and Stonemason Careers

Like in other skilled trades, brick and stone craftspeople spend years apprenticing and understudying before beginning their professional careers or journeys. There’s a lot to learn about building masonry and brick structures that support great weights while also looking good.

People tend to lump masons and bricklayers into the same category, but they are two different trades within a similar construction class. Both bricklayers and stonemasons use solid materials joined with a cement-based mortar or slurry that hardens to bond bricks and rocks together.

The difference between the two professions is in the building products used and the method of assembly.

Stonemasons

Masons tend to work with natural stone. Their work involves various stone types ranging from granite to sandstone — there are hundreds of different natural building materials to choose from.

Since no two stones are the same, workers need a keen eye for their craft. Often, the mason must hammer and chisel stones to make them fit into the building or structure.

Bricklayers

Bricklaying is a more repetitive and predictable craft. Bricklayers — or brickies as they’re called on the job — usually work with fired bricks and concrete blocks.

Bricklayers normally saw-cut their materials to fit. This creates a lot of dust on the worksite that may be inhaled by anyone working nearby.

Although brick and stonework are two different forms of masonry, many tradespeople cross over and work with both materials. Because stone is considered more difficult and challenging, many bricklayers avoid stone masonry.

However, most stonemasons are comfortable working with both brick and stone.

Brick and Stonemason Health Risks

Mesothelioma is a deadly form of cancer that develops after airborne asbestos fibers become trapped in the lungs or digestive system.

Decades after exposure, asbestos fibers lodged in the human body can lead to the growth of cancerous tumors. Exposed workers can develop mesothelioma 20 to 50 years after their initial exposure.

Every bricklayer and stonemason exposed to asbestos carries the same health risks as workers in other hazardous trades. A worker’s risk of developing mesothelioma depends on the duration of their exposure as well as the amount of asbestos they inhaled or ingested.

Unfortunately, a mesothelioma diagnosis is often made too late for effective treatment.

Help for Mesothelioma Victims

If you worked as a bricklayer or stonemason and now suffer from mesothelioma, you may be eligible for legal compensation. By seeking compensation, you may be awarded payments for personal injury, loss of income and medical expenses.

Courts have also ruled on asbestos lawsuits and settlements with punitive damages. Family members of mesothelioma victims may be eligible to file wrongful death lawsuits.

For more information on seeking justice for asbestos illnesses, contact our Justice Support Team today.

Author:Stephanie Kidd

Editor-in-Chief of the Mesothelioma Justice Network

Stephanie Kidd

Stephanie Kidd works tirelessly as a dedicated advocate for the vulnerable and underrepresented. Stephanie worked as a copywriter for an agency whose focus was communicating safety procedures on construction work sites. With her extensive background in victim advocacy and a dedication to seeing justice done, Stephanie works hard to ensure that all online content is reliable, truthful and helpful.

Last modified: October 24, 2019

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