Bricks, stones, and concrete blocks are some of the most commonly used and most versatile construction media in the world. These materials are both aesthetically decorative and practical in that they are strong and durable. They can be used to construct buildings, stairways, walkways, fences, roads, floors, walls, and much more. The people who work with these materials are known as bricklayers, brick masons, or block masons. They are highly skilled and trained in their work, which requires high concentration to be done properly and safely. Training is done both on the job and in classroom settings, but for the most part is pure engineering and construction.
At one time, any form of construction meant coming into contact with asbestos and asbestos-containing products. It was used in so many construction and building applications that it couldn’t be avoided. Walls were filled with asbestos insulation, and roof beams were sprayed with asbestos foam. Steel was layered with asbestos for heat and rust protection. Many forms of adhesives, such as caulk, glue, and cement, contained asbestos on construction sites where bricklayers were present.
Asbestos and Bricklaying
Because bricks or blocks were used as walls or floors, bricklayers had some of the greatest exposure to asbestos of anyone on a construction site. In addition to casual, secondary contact with asbestos, bricklayers had firsthand contact with asbestos in the form of mortar. Mortar is used between bricks and blocks to adhere them to each other. Many types of mortar, just as other adhesives, were made with large quantities of asbestos. Asbestos mortar and cement was required for roofs, walls, and floors. Even though the cement hardens into a solid form, the work was not complete after the mortar hardened. It required finishing. Finishing work done by bricklayers often consisted of sanding, grinding, or otherwise wearing down and sculpting the mortar to make it look more presentable. As the mortar was ground or sanded, asbestos fibers came loose and could fill the air as a dust, where they could be inhaled into the lungs.
Although most new materials are asbestos-free, working as a bricklayer is still unsafe because a lot of the work is done on older buildings that contain asbestos. Sometimes bricklayers are called in to fix older brickwork that requires maintenance, so asbestos contact is not a situation of the past for bricklayers.