One of the most important tasks of any employer is to create an environment that helps its workers go home to their families safely. Obviously, this is a more challenging task for those in construction. For the masonry industry, new research about the most rudimentary tasks is creating a safer work environment.

We are discovering ways to reduce the strain on masons and their backs. As our feature story, "Ligntweight Block, Heavyweight Benefits" explains, reducing the size and weight of concrete masonry units can go a long way in advancing jobsite safety. In addition to the 50% savings versus heavier units, employees will suffer fewer back injuries and file fewer workers' compensation claims.

Now it appears that where a mason performs his work impacts the equipment and methods he uses to increase safety on the jobsite. A study on masonry work-place safety was published by the Center for Construction Research and Training this past summer. In 2004, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) met with masonry contractors, workers, occupational health and safety specialists, masonry associations, ergonomics consultants, and representatives of state workers' comp programs to identify “best practices” for reducing the rate of musculoskeletal disorders among masons. Lightweight block was a best practice; others included use of mortar silos, grout delivery systems, mechanical scaffolding, half-weight cement bags, H-Block and A-Block, autoclaved aerated concrete, half-size pallets, and two-person lift teams.

While there was general agreement on best practices, researchers found their implementation varied by region. Jennifer Hess, lead author of “Ergonomic Best Practices in Masonry: Regional Differences, Benefits, Barriers, and Recommendations for Dissemination,” conducted a survey of 183 mason contractors from 16 states in four regions: Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, and West Coast. Contractors were asked about the advantages and disadvantages, and their utilization of best practices.

“We found that contractors in the Northeast were less likely to use mortar silos, but had a higher utilization of half-size pallets than the other regions, and contractors on the West Coast had the highest utilization of mortar silos and H-Block,” Hess reported.

Researchers found time savings was the main advantage driving use of an innovation, followed closely by increased productivity. Improved safety usually ranked third. An exception was using two-person lift teams with 12-inch block and half-weight cement bags. Here, safety was cited as the most important advantage. “This indicates that some contractors have already found these best practices to be cost-effective, as well as safe,” Hess said. “The use of ergonomic equipment, materials, and work practices can benefit both contractors and workers.”

Visit for more. To see a video of a two-man lift team in action, visit

More at World of Concrete

Masons can learn more at the Masonry Productivity and Safety Demonstration sponsored by the Center for Construction Research and Training during World of Masonry/World of Concrete, Jan. 18-21.

The demonstrations will focus on labor efficiency and improved jobsite safety by using the two-person lift technique for 10-pound block, using autoclaved aerated concrete, using H-block for an entire wall, and the high-lift grouting method where rebar is added after course six and there is a clean-out hole at the bottom for inspection.

Under the direction of qualified instructors, attendees can practice these techniques at specified times during the show. Visit