A quarry rock splitter does exactly what it sounds like: split or separate blocks of rough stone from a quarry mass, using a jackhammer and wedges. It is a highly specialized job that is only done in stone quarries, which are a type of open-pit mine from which rock and minerals are extracted for use as building materials. For many people the idea of a rock quarry and someone breaking stone brings up visions of the cartoon character Fred Flintstone, who famously worked at Slate Construction. The cartoon made many references to the process of splitting quarry rock, often reflected through names such as Barney Rubble, Mr. Slate, movie star Rock Quarry, and the town of Bedrock itself.
The real-life job is not significantly different from the cartoon version, although equipment and technology is changing the way a Quarry Rock Splitter does the job. With the increasing popularity of stone kitchen countertops and stone flooring and the demand for aggregate, the job retains importance. Stones such as granite, limestone, marble, slate, and sandstone are extracted, and concrete and aggregate building materials are manufactured from the materials remaining after large pieces are removed. Construction quarries exist all over the world, and there are many historic quarry sites that have existed for centuries. Environmentalists have led the movement to reclaim exhausted quarries, and these are often restored. The beautiful Butchart Gardens in Victoria, B.C., Canada is an example of a quarry that has been transformed into a massive garden and tourist attraction.
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A quarry rock splitter must first locate the grain line patterns in the quarry to determine how the rock will split. Dimensions and outlines are marked with rules and chalk lines before any cutting begins. A number of different processes are then used to work with the rock itself. Explosives may be used to split large sections of rock. Jackhammers, wedges, sledgehammers, and other tools are used to split stone sections from the rock mass. Holes are drilled along the outline of the chalk lines with jackhammers. Grooves may be cut along the outlines with chisels for smaller stone sections.
Once the stone has been separated from the mass, drill holes are made into the sides and dogs are inserted or slings attached so the stones can be removed. The slabs of stone must then be cut into sheets that can be used for floors and counters.
There is no particular school of training for this job, and most splitters learn on the job. There are a number of specific abilities and skills required, however. A Quarry Rock Splitter must understand quarrying methods and products and be able to control equipment and electronic systems. He or she must be able to monitor machine gauges to ensure they are operational. Active listening skills are extremely important, as workers need to pay attention, understand, and ask questions to ensure that the process is carried out correctly. An understanding of health and safety rules and procedures is essential. Splitters must be familiar with the quality of the stone, and training in geology and heavy equipment operation is helpful. Weather is a major factor, and splitters must know how to do the job safely in inclement weather or under extreme conditions of heat or cold.
Other desirable characteristics include:
Steady arms and hands
good limb coordination
body strength and the ability to exert muscle force
strength and stamina
ability to exert repetitive muscle force over a long period of time
A quarry rock splitter must also know how to effectively communicate with supervisors and coworkers. They need a good understanding of construction materials and need to know what constitutes high-quality rock product. Personal safety must be monitored and job safety requirements must be closely adhered to. There may be some exposure to contaminants and hazardous equipment.
Work is outdoors and often subject to weather conditions. The job is highly physical and involves using arms and hands to position materials and manipulate equipment and rock. Workers must be able to handle and maintain machinery, including forklifts, jackhammers, and mechanical wedges, and they also must use manual tools such as sledgehammers. As the job becomes more modernized, quarry rock splitters must also know how to operate a computer in the workplace. Environmental concerns impact the workplace, and plans for reclamation often must be in place before extraction work can begin.
Work location can be almost anywhere in the world. There are large quarries in Canada, Australia, and the U.S., as well as in Mexico, Romania, New Zealand, China, and Russia, among other locations. High-quality marble quarries are found in China, Pakistan, Italy, Spain, Greece, Sweden, and the U.S.
In the U.S. hourly wages for quarry rock splitters averaged $16 an hour in 2011. In the UK quarry workers can earn up to £25,000. In Australia pay averages $45,000 a year. The job is part of the mining industry, and workers may have opportunity for advancement into other areas of mining, including supervision.