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. Our guide examines the work related hazards of stonemasonry.
Manual Handling Hazards
Perhaps unsurprisingly, injury most often occurs when stonemasons handle slabs of stone. 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 unnecessary manual handling activity.
- Assess the risks of an unavoidable and hazardous manual handling activity.
- Take measures to lessen the risk of injury.
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 may help. The tool, known as MAC, helps to highlight manual handling operations that are likely to be hazardous.
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.
Stone dust may damage the respiratory system. The most common respiratory diseases a stonemason may have to cope with are silicosis, asthma and COPD.
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.
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.
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.