Recently, until a time not long past, Legal Notice 96 of 1968, which was later repealed in 2018, had stipulated that any undertaking involving the construction, alteration, or demolition of a building, as well as the preparatory work or foundation laying for an intended edifice, must be executed under the watchful eye and capable direction of a mason. It was the responsibility of this mason to personally oversee the following tasks: (a) The skillful construction of arches and arched ceilings; (b) The artful roofing, be it in stone or reinforced concrete; (c) The precise assembly or alteration of scaffolding; (d) The expert craftsmanship behind the creation of staircases; (e) The adept positioning of joists; (f) The undertaking of excavation work necessitating shoring; (g) The proficient erection or installation of lifting appliances.

The upshot was that all construction sites were unequivocally mandated by law to be under supervision, even though general, rather than constant, supervision. Alas, what exactly constituted ‘general supervision’ was left ambiguously undefined by the law (and, clearly, will continue to be so), a matter I am currently addressing in a scholarly paper, focusing on this very subject.

Meanwhile, within the Police Code (or Chapter 10), the role of the mason remains expressly delineated under a number of provisions. Understandably, these provisions are now poised for obscurity as the intention is to incorporate its provisions in regulations made under the Building Construction Authority Act —an eminently sensible course of action.

As per Chapter 10, a mason was therein defined as “any person who constructs wholly or in part any stone or brick building not built without mortar,” encompassing even the task of erecting a mere wall intended to be part of a building. It further extended to the construction of cisterns, privies, sinks, cesspools, or conduits for the passage of unwholesome water or sewage matter. Up until now,  the Police Code stipulates that the license of a mason is granted by the Director of Public Works, a practice that appears rather archaic in the face of the advent of the BCA.

Furthermore, the code of police laws in its wisdom dictated that should any mason, through unskillfulness, imprudence, or carelessness, cause harm to any person or property in the execution of their trade, the Court of Magistrates could duly prohibit the said mason from practicing their craft for a stipulated duration while simultaneously revoking their license. It is imperative that this article finds a new abode in the annals of revamped legal statutes.

Still,  the crux of the matter at present lies in the unequivocal elucidation of the obligations and constraints pertaining to licensed masons.

Per the new Construction Industry Licensing Regulations, 2023 (L.N. 166 of 2023), excavation projects are now entrusted to licensed individuals who hold or can demonstrate possession of a Level 4 certification as an Excavation Plants supervisor, duly issued in accordance with the esteemed National Occupational Standards. Alternatively, they must exhibit a minimum of three (3) years of proficiency in excavation and piling tasks, supported by references from at least two (2) projects involving these activities. This represents a significant leap forward, as it excludes masons whom with all due respect, lack specialization in such works and ensures a more qualified workforce.

However, we must not overlook the matter of frame structures constructed with steel. In the current state of affairs, where a well-defined framework is in the  making, it would be unwise to continue entrusting masons with the overall supervision of such projects. Instead, it is of utmost importance (as exemplified by the case of excavation works) to establish a dedicated and specialized level of expertise tailored explicitly to this field. Once again, masons or block layerers are not the appropriate candidates for such responsibilities.

More so, I have been emphasizing for a long time that the mason must be present on site at all times – this should be spelt clearly in the upcoming regulations. The mason should be the one supervising the works and, if necessary, take on the site manager role, which clients often sign off on without fully understanding the obligations. It should solely be the mason who receives the structural drawings from the architect, ensures a thorough understanding of the content and load paths, and then explains it to the rest of the workers on site. Furthermore, the mason should closely monitor to ensure everything aligns accordingly and revert to the perit when in doubt.