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    494 St. Vincent’s Rd. Nudgee Qld 4014

Silicosis and the stonemason

Our commitment to the health and safety of our team members

Wetting down natural stone products in our factory to cut and process them.
Wetting down natural stone products in our factory to cut and process them.
Our stonemasons use water at all times to reduce the risks of them developing silicosis.
Our stonemasons use water at all times to reduce the risks of them developing silicosis.
Processing stone using water in our Nudgee factory.
Processing stone using water in our Nudgee factory.

The lasting effects of silicosis on stonemasons, and protecting the future of our workers.

Silicosis – As a family-owned company, T. Wrafter & Sons has always placed a high priority on the health and safety of our staff. Recently, you may have noticed media coverage discussing the risks of working with silica-containing materials like stone and how it can lead to a debilitating respiratory disease called silicosis. 

In today’s modern age where emphasis is on production and manufacturing that is more efficient and cost-effective than ever before, it is essential that we not lose sight of the health and safety of our team. This is something we take very seriously.  At T. Wrafter & Sons stonemasons, we consider all of our team members to be our family.

In this article, we take a look at the devastating effects of silicosis on stonemasons, and the increased risks of developing silicosis when working with manufactured stone.

What is silicosis?

Silicosis is an incurable lung disease caused by inhaling silica dust. It can take years of exposure to silica dust for the disease to develop, and symptoms may not appear until decades after exposure. Once developed, silicosis can lead to a range of respiratory problems, including in severe cases, respiratory failure and death.

The devastating effects of silicosis

Silicosis is a progressive disease, meaning it gets worse over time.The severity of the disease depends on the level of exposure to silica dust, with higher levels of exposure leading to more severe symptoms. In advanced cases, silicosis can lead to lung cancer, and pulmonary tuberculosis. Sufferers may need to undergo lung transplants to improve their chances of survival and quality of life. 

Early detection and treatment can slow the progression of the disease, but sadly there is no cure.

Silicosis and the stonemason

Silica is a mineral that is found in rock, sand, and soil. Stonemasons are at a higher risk of developing silicosis because of their exposure to silica dust during the processing of stone. When the silica dust is airborne, its fine particles are easily inhaled and it is therefore a serious health concern for stonemasons.  

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, in 2018-19, there were 78 silicosis-related hospitalisations in Australia, with most cases occurring in the construction industry. The organisation cites silicosis as being one of the top ten diseases related to occupational exposures and hazards, with the burden increasing.

A recently released report published by Curtin University predicts that in excess of 10, 000 Australians will develop silicosis related lung cancer in their lifetime.

T. Wrafter & Sons: A history of safety and sustainability

Stonemasonry involves cutting, grinding, and polishing stone, which produces fine dust containing silica particles. Using water to control the dust during stonemasonry is crucial in preventing silicosis. Water suppresses the dust by binding the silica particles, preventing them from becoming airborne and being inhaled by workers.

T. Wrafter & Sons were one of the first stonemason companies in Queensland to use water in our processing to protect our workers from the lasting effects of silicosis. In fact, we have been doing so since the inception of our workshop and processing facilities.

Very early on, we installed our own water reticulation system at our Nudgee factory, ensuring that water is used at every stage of processing our stone products. This method not only protects our workers from the lasting effects of silicosis, but it also reduces the amount of dust in the workshop, creating a safer working environment for all.

Since that first day, we have continued to invest in new technologies and practices to ensure the safety and sustainability of our work. We believe that taking care of our staff and the environment is not just the right thing to do, but it is also essential for the long-term success of our business.

Why do we only work with natural stone?

At T. Wrafter & Sons, we prefer to only work with natural stone, specialising in Australian quarried granite, marble and Queensland’s own Helidon sandstone; all of which are renowned for their inherent beauty, durability, versatility and longevity. Natural stone is a sustainable and environmentally friendly option requiring minimal processing.

Natural stone has combinations of, and variations in colour and pattern that make each piece unique. Although many have tried (and failed!) to replicate the characteristics of natural stone, the uniqueness and beauty cannot be recreated in the true sense. Its timeless beauty was perfected by Mother Nature. 

Aesthetics aside, there are several additional benefits to working with natural stone vs manufactured stone products, not the least of which is our staff’s health. We prefer working with natural stone because:

  • It is environmentally friendly: Natural stone is a sustainable and environmentally friendly material that is quarried from the earth and can be recycled.
  • It is durable: Natural stone is a durable material that can withstand wear and tear and has a long lifespan.
  • It is low maintenance: Natural stone requires minimal maintenance and can be easily cleaned without harsh chemicals.
  • Those working with natural stone have a lower risk of developing silicosis compared to manufactured stone.
Slabs of natural stone stored at our Nudgee factory, awaiting processing or for processing to be completed.

The risks of working with engineered stone

Engineered stone, also known as manufactured stone, is a popular alternative to natural stone because of its affordability and consistent availability. Engineered stone is a type of stone that is made by mixing crushed stone with resins and other materials. Although engineered stone can be an attractive and cost-effective alternative to natural stone, working with it significantly increases the risk of developing silicosis compared with working with natural stone.

The process of creating engineered stone leads to it containing a higher level of silica than natural stone because silica particles are added during the manufacturing process. 

The silica in manufactured stone is in a crystalline form, which is more hazardous to health than the amorphous silica found in natural stone. As a result, stonemasons who work with manufactured stone are at a higher risk of developing silicosis than those who work with natural stone.

In factories where dry-processing still occurs (ie water not used for cutting/grinding practices), the risk to the health of workers is even higher.

Committing to a safer future for our stonemasons

We take the health and safety of our staff seriously at T. Wrafter & Sons. Our commitment to using our own reticulated water when processing our products has been in place since our early history, and we choose only to work with natural stone, preferably quarried right here in Australia.

We believe that safety and sustainability are the foundation of our success. We invite you to explore our website and learn more about our commitment to quality, safety, and sustainability. If you are looking for a stonemasonry company that shares your values and is committed to delivering high-quality monuments and memorials, reach out to discuss your next project, and experience the beauty and durability of natural stone.