From the heights of these pyramids, 40 centuries look down on us.
~ Napoleon Bonaparte
Now, two centuries after Napoleon and 42 centuries after their construction, those Egyptian pyramids still look down on us, a testament to the masonry work performed by the stonemasons of the day.
The Sphinx and Egyptian Pyramids
Some of the world's most impressive structures and architectural achievements result from masonry principles, with the help of stones and lime mortar. Some of these include the Colosseum in Rome, India's Taj Mahal, The Tower of London, The Forbidden City in China, and the Great Wall of China. Masonry structures are built to outlast the everyday wear and tear that other buildings often succumb to over time.
And masonry is found not only in monumental landmarks but in the world around us. As you look around, recognize that masonry skills likely helped create many of those buildings you see. Masonry is used in commercial structures, school buildings, and constructed homes. Building patios, walkways, masonry heaters , and fireplaces also incorporate the craft. Skilled masons are vital to most building construction, and they belong to a vital construction sub-industry.
Anything made of brick, including fireplaces, involves a mason.
On this industry page, we cover a wide range of construction masonry topics: the industry, types of masons, employment and occupations, work activities, masonry tools, associations and organizations, and safety hazards. You may opt to continue reading to learn more about masonry and the mason's daily work activities, or you can click the hazard warning icon below and be taken directly to the safety section for this industry, its suggested PPE, and a list of potential hazards.
Click to jump directly to the Safety, Hazards and PPE section.
Let's build you knowledge of the masonry industry!
What is Masonry?
Hadrian's Wall in the U.K. was built by the Romans 20 centuries ago.
The official definition for masonry, according to Merriam-Webster , is “something constructed of materials used by masons,” which is a little vague for what skilled masons do. Essentially, masonry principles are at work when blocks, bricks, stones, and other materials are used to create a structure or elements of a structure. Most times, the material is laid and bonded together with mortar to create strength and longevity for the structure.
Buildings that incorporate masonry can withstand earthquakes and fires, which is why so many of the significant landmarks we mentioned earlier have survived for so long. Since masonry does not rely on fabricating metal materials, it can be completed faster and often with fewer mistakes than other rival materials.
The U.S. NAICS industry code for Masonry Contractors is 238140. This coded number allows the government to classify all the sector's businesses' activities, helping workers and suppliers better understand the industry. According to IBISWorld, the masonry industry produces over $22 billion in economic activity each year, with over 85,000 masonry businesses operating in the U.S.
The demand for masonry is heavily reliant on the needs arising from residential construction. With the world's population increasing dramatically in the 20th century, there was a great need for residential homes that could be built quickly and relatively cheaply without exhausting local natural resources like forests. The demand for housing has continued into the 21st century and means that skilled masons are needed now more than ever. Even when new commercial and residential construction is experiencing slow growth, there is always a demand for additions, maintenance, and repair of current buildings, so a mason's work is never done.
Residential home made of bricks
You may wonder why we have a Concrete industry section too, as masonry is closely tied to concrete. We break them up into separate pages since masonry involves using many materials beyond concrete. Businesses that pour, build, and finish concrete foundations are classified under NAICS code 23811, a separate construction sub-industry. However, cement masons who use concrete will most likely find both pages advantageous when selecting personal protective equipment (PPE).
Every industry typically has associations and establishments that promote all companies' general welfare and support workers operating in the industry. Here are two of the most recognized associations for masonry:
The Mason Contractors Association of America (MCAA) is the national trade association representing masons with industry standards, continuing education, and safety forums raising overall awareness. For safety topics, the association equips masons with an entire safety library for contractors to utilize.
The Masonry Institute of America is a technical and research organization improving masonry's utilization across the construction industry. They provide numerous masonry resources for contractors. Here are some:
Other masonry associations include:
All masonry associations have one thing in common: keeping masons armed with the most relevant, up-to-date information possible to help them best perform their job. Many masons working in this industry look to these professional associations for answers.
Employment and Occupations
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are over 302,100 masonry workers in the U.S. These highly skilled craftsmen are often referred to as bricklayers, even though they may specialize in other material such as stone or cement. Most learn their craft through apprenticeships, technical school programs, or a combination of both.
Here is a look at the largest employers of masonry workers:
|Cement masons and concrete finishers
|Brickmasons and blockmasons
|Terrazzo workers and finishers
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Masonry Workers
Most masons work in commercial and residential construction, over half, in fact. Out of all the masonry jobs mentioned above, more than 150,000 find employment in general masonry construction. Our next section provides a more detailed look at each type of masonry contractor.
Types of Masonry Contractors
A mason's skill will never be replaced by any machine, at least not any time soon. Their craft requires superb color vision, precision in the placement of bricks, and strong hand-eye coordination.
Most masonry contractors are primarily responsible for making structures take permanent shape using bricks and stone. However, some are required to be even more detail-oriented and make those shapes look fantastic, with eye-catching artwork and terrazzo patterns. Here is a look at the various types of masons identified by the BLS:
Place, smooth, and finish the surfaces of poured concrete. They often focus on concrete floors, sidewalks, and roads.
Often referred to as bricklayers, build structures, walls, and fireplaces utilizing bricks bonded together with mortar.
Set exterior walls and floors with stone. They transform rough pieces of rock into geometric shapes used in a variety of building applications.
Create decorative finishes and build patterns into sidewalks, floors, courtyards, and panels. They paint fireplaces, stamp and stain concrete, and finish concrete walkways.
While these masons may all specialize in different areas, they share more similarities than one might think. According to O*NET OnLine, they all spend time enduring outdoor weather challenges, as 97% of masons surveyed say they were exposed to the weather. They are also all exposed to hazardous substances while on the job. Let's dive into the activities and tools masons use, as they play an essential role in worker safety.
What is masonry work? A mason's role in construction can be as straightforward as building a wall, or it can involve challenging problem-solving skills such as erecting a skyscraper. Regardless of the complexity involved, a mason constructs a building or structure one block or unit at a time.
For all the different masons mentioned above, each performs a wide range of activities. These activities include carrying heavy tools and equipment and handling abrasive material, all of which can injure their hands.
Here are some more activities performed by masons:
- Adjusting surface imperfections
- Attaching brick materials to structures
- Blending marble into epoxy
- Building concrete beams and columns
- Carrying, positioning, and unloading materials
- Cleaning extra mortar with towels
- Cleaning mixers
- Coloring stones
- Constructing and repairing walls
- Cutting brick, tile, stone, and other material to size
- Constructing trestle scaffolding
- Filling expansion joints with caulking materials
- Forming corners
- Laying paving bricks and blocks
- Lifting heavy materials
- Leveling Concrete Slab
- Polishing and sanding surfaces
- Pushing wheelbarrows
- Removing old brick and mortar
- Repairing chimneys
- Repairing kilns and furnaces
- Securing bricks with mortar
- Setting stone
- Spreading grout onto foundations
- Using caulking, grout sealants, and coatings
- Using tools such as sledgehammers and crowbars
No matter what task a mason performs, you can be sure exposure to hazards occurs. We understand this, which is why we highlight some of the dangers created from these activities and suggest the PPE to keep masons protected. Before we explore PPE options, here is an overview of the tools commonly used by masons.
Each masonry trade requires specialization, and not all masons will perform every activity we highlighted above. However, all of them will use familiar tools to complete their projects.
Products and Tools
Masons rely heavily on tools, as the process of bricklaying and stonelaying requires precise accuracy. Before the initial brick is set, masons are armed with a wide range of tools to complete construction projects. We’ll take a look at some of the more common tools used. We highlight these because many injuries workers suffer are caused by the tools they use on the job.
Here is a look at some of the most common masonry tools you'll find:
- Adhesive – known as brick glue, adhesive helps reattach bricks or stone
- Anchors – transfer loads of objects to support a structural frame
- Brick Hammer – made with a blunt side and used to split bricks
- Brushes – remove excess mortar
- Caulk – a type of sealer used in sealing joints
- Drill Bit – designed for drilling into bricks without causing them to crack or split
- Jointer – finishing tool for mortar joints
- Level – ensures the building is structurally sound
- Nails – made of hardened steel for use with concrete and bricks
- Paint – used to protect and decorate masonry
- Saw – used to cut bricks and blocks
- Screws – used with anchors to fasten fittings
- Sealers – used for a variety of purposes, including waterproofing chimneys
- Trowel – used to apply mortar on stone
- Wall Ties – connect structures with adjacent masonry
According to O*NET OnLine, 96% of masons polled said they spend time using their hands to control tools and to feel objects. MCR Safety provides masons with the protection they need to keep their hands shielded from hazards.
What is the purpose of a tool if you have no material to use it on? Clay bricks and concrete blocks are two of the materials most often used by masons. However, masons work with all kinds of materials when constructing buildings and structures. Here are some of the common materials used in masonry construction:
Adobe - made of organic materials and clay, these bricks are most often sun-dried and offer high levels of durability.
Brick - composed of shale and clay, this might be one of the most popular and often-used masonry materials.
Cast Stone - Cast Stone
Concrete Block - created with a combination of cement, sand, and crushed stone, it offers an economical and sustainable building material.
Glass Block - a material made of glass and often referred to as glass brick, these allow natural light to come through.
Manufactured Stone - usually made from concrete or a lightweight compound, the mixture is molded and colored to look like natural stone.
Mortar - used to set masonry materials and make them stick.
Natural Stone - unique stones quarried from the earth include marble, granite, travertine, and limestone. Our Quarry industry page focuses on PPE for the workers who help uncover these materials from the ground, allowing stonework to occur.
Portland Cement - a mixture of lime, silica, alumina, iron, and gypsum used as mortar and the basic ingredient for concrete.
Stucco - cement-based plaster used for decorating walls, can also be molded into various architectural adornments.
Tile - a piece of baked clay, concrete, or other raw material, most often used on roofs.
Terra Cotta - a clay-based ornamental material in a reddish-brown color.
No matter the task, the material, or the tools used, masons agree that a top concern on any job site is safety. PPE is required to help protect masons from the hazards they face on the job.
Accidents and injuries are common across the construction industry, especially among masons, so keeping a watchful eye on the work environment is crucial. The Masonry Contractor industry ranks #7 out of 21 total construction sub-industries for injury incidents.
For every 100 people, there is an injury experienced by 3.5 masonry workers. Here are some other stats the BLS provides that masons should consider:
- Roughly 10% of all mason injuries involve cuts and lacerations.
- 30% of injuries are from contact with parts and material.
- Masonry ranks 8th for total eye injuries.
- 21% of injuries involve hands and arms.
Due to the number of incidents that occur, most masonry companies will institute a contractor safety program.
Masonry Contractor Safety Program
Masonry is a craft that involves inherent risks from muddy environments, dropped objects, and exposure to chemicals. Because of the hazards masons face, most companies will have a program to guide all workers involved in masonry activities and instruct them on safety protocol and PPE.
Here is an example from Alliance Masonry Corp . that addresses all relevant safety topics workers must be familiar with while operating at work. Established safety programs are essential, as they identify hazards where PPE is required. Here are some examples of the hazards faced by masons:
- Workers in this industry are always lifting materials with jagged edges.
- Exposure to contaminants in mortar, materials, and dust is a definite concern.
- Operating a brick saw or chisel sends sharp, jagged material flying into the air.
Masonry work is strenuous and challenging; however, risks can be mitigated. Before we move on to the PPE required by masons, here are some other helpful online resources regarding safety:
With all the masonry safety information and hazard information we've equipped you with, you're now ready to start considering the PPE options available to masons.
A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him. ~ David Brinkley
Laying bricks is no easy task, but hopefully we have shed a little light on how vital masons are in construction. Now, let's illuminate what types of protection masons require. To combat potential injuries masons may suffer, they look to MCR Safety to protect them with high-quality PPE. Here is a broad list of various PPE that MCR Safety supplies to help masons avoid injury:
Work gloves – cut, chemical, impact.
We've highlighted a lot of masonry information and thrown a bunch of industry stats at you. Now, the remaining part of this page showcases some of the most common masonry hazards and different PPE options masons should consider wearing while performing their work.
If you prefer to return to the main Construction home page, click the image below. From the home page, you'll be able to access any of the numerous construction industries we cover. If you would prefer to check out some of masonry’s specific trade hazards, please continue reading below the Construction page image.
MCR Safety's dedicated Construction industry resource page.