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Hazards of Stonemasonry

By: Kevin Watson MSc - Updated: 16 Sep 2015 | comments*Discuss
 
Stonemason Manual Handling Upper Limb

Over the last few years, there has been an average of one fatality every 12 months in the stonework sector. Demand for stonemasonry has reflected the increase in deaths and injuries. Designers of offices, flats and houses are using granite, marble and other stones as an integral part of a building’s décor at the luxury end of the property market.

Manual Handling

Perhaps unsurprisingly, injury most often occurs when stonemasons handle slabs. Lifting, carrying and putting down large chunks of stone are activities that have innate risks.

There are three well established principles of Manual Handling that apply to stonemasons:

  • Do not engage in any hazardous manual handling activity whenever possible
  • Assess the risks of an unavoidable and hazardous manual handling activity
  • Take measures to lessen the risk of injury as far as this is possible

Clearly, many manual handling activities take place during a stonemason’s day. To conduct frequent risk assessments isn’t practical. This is when the manual handling assessment tool from the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) may help. The tool, known as MAC, helps to highlight manual handling operations that are likely to be hazardous.

Occupational Illness

Stonemasons face a number of occupational illnesses. The noise of cutting stone on site, for instance, can lead to hearing problems.

A stonemason who finds it hard to hear people, needs the TV turned up loud, and cannot hear callers on the phone should see a doctor. Another cause of concern is a humming, buzzing, ringing or whistling sound in the ears. Wearing some form of hearing protection at work in a Noisy Environment is advisable.

Upper Limb Disorders

Working with stone can lead to upper limb disorders. The most common cause is a vibrating hand tool. These disorders can affect a stonemason’s fingers, arms, shoulders and neck. Doctors use terms such as Occupational Overuse Syndrome, cumulative trauma disorder and repetitive strain injury to describe the symptoms.

Any stonemason who feels a burning or aching sensation in the upper limbs must visit a doctor. Most patients make a complete recovery if they take prompt action.

Respiratory Disease

Stone dust may damage the respiratory system. The most common respiratory diseases a stonemason may have to cope with are silicosis, asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

Silicosis may not appear for years. Over time, respirable crystalline silica (RCS) may enter the lungs. It causes damage and inflames the tissue. This, in turn, can lead to fibrosis (scar tissue). The symptoms of silicosis are difficulty breathing and a cough that won’t go away.

Asthma

Occupational asthma occurs when a stonemason has an allergic reaction to a workplace substance such as stone dust. Inhalers can help if a sufferer feels on the point of experiencing an asthma attack.

COPD

Smoking usually causes COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). But harmful dust at work may contribute to the development of the disease if a stonemason is a smoker. It’s also possible that in some instances, harmful dust can be the direct cause of COPD.

Employers should take every precaution to limit the risks of stonemasons developing respiratory disease. Masks and ventilation may help. Employers should seek advice from HSE to ensure they are taking all practical and reasonable measures.

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Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Hi Kevin, very interesting article. Safety is something that is often over looked in stonemasonry.
Tom - 16-Sep-15 @ 4:16 PM
I have a lung diese and I was wondering if it would be a bad idea to become a stonemason. I will obviously wear a face mask but I still don't know if it will be bad for me or not?
Bob - 27-Jul-15 @ 1:23 AM
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