In this article, Industrial Hygienist, Ronald Schaible, CIH, CSP, provides an introduction to wet cement injuries. His discussion includes an explanation of the hazards as well as industry safety practices for protecting workers.
WET CEMENT INJURY INVESTIGATIONS
Concrete contains cement as a primary ingredient, along with water, coarse aggregate such as stone, and fine aggregate such as sand. Fresh wet cement dries and forms concrete which is easy to work with, versatile, durable, and economical. It is used by thousands of workers on construction sites and by do-it-yourselfers on residential projects. The hazards of wet cement are subtle and injuries from exposure to wet cement are often delayed.
HAZARDS ASSOCIATED WITH WET CEMENT
When cement is dry it contains calcium oxide, which is not particularly dangerous. However, when water is added to cement, calcium hydroxide is formed, which is extremely alkaline with a pH of 12 to 13. Normal human skin has a pH of 5.5; therefore, wet cement is a “hazardous chemical” because it can produce alkaline (caustic) burns to the skin and eyes which progress and get worse without additional exposure. It is possible for a worker to sustain thermal burns as well as chemical burns from Portland cement that has been wetted with a small amount of water, including contact with perspiration or other bodily fluids.
A worker may have wet cement on his or her skin for hours without feeling any discomfort; however, the chemical action is damaging the skin microscopically. By the time a worker becomes aware of a burn injury, much damage has already occurred and further damage is difficult to stop. Wet cement burns may result in blisters, dead or hardened skin, or black and green skin. In severe cases, these burns may extend to the bone and cause disfiguring scars or disability.
Direct skin contact with wet cement can be effectively controlled by the use of proper personal protective equipment (PPE) such as clothing which includes wearing waterproof gloves, long-sleeved shirt and long pants. If it is necessary to stand in fresh wet cement while it is being placed, screeded, or floated, workers should wear rubber boots. Boots should be high enough to prevent wet cement from getting into them.
Clothing worn as protection from fresh wet cement should not be allowed to become saturated with moisture because saturated clothing can transmit alkaline or hygroscopic effects to the skin. If powdered Portland cement or liquids containing Portland cement penetrate through the clothing, the clothing should be immediately removed and the exposed skin washed using soap or mild detergent and water.
Additional controls include following proper work practices and the hazard information found in Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS; currently referred to as Safety Data Sheets (SDS)). Safe-use information found in warning labels on delivery tickets and other literature should be properly communicated to product users. Studies have demonstrated that the risk of injury from the hazards of wet cement is beyond the knowledge or awareness of many ordinary users, absent adequate warnings about those hazards and the risk of injury.
WORKPLACE SAFETY INVESTIGATIONS
The multidisciplinary workplace safety group at Robson Forensic includes professional engineers, hazardous material management professionals, occupational safety specialists, toxicologists, and certified industrial hygienists. We evaluate complex human health and safety issues including chemical and biological exposures, industrial machine mishaps, and a variety of other workplace safety issues.
For more information, visit our Workplace Safety practice page.
Industrial Hygienist, Workplace Safety & Ergonomics Expert
Ron is certified in the Comprehensive Practice of Industrial Hygiene (CIH), a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and a Certified Professional Ergonomist with diverse career experience. He has over 40 years of experience in commercial insurance loss control, private industry, and consulting. He has been responsible for global health and safety for a major electrical/ electronics industry manufacturer.
The scope of his professional experience includes all aspects of workplace safety such as machine guarding, suitability of personal protective equipment (PPE), ergonomic interventions, evaluating industrial hygiene exposures, product stewardship (preparation of Material
Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and product labels and warnings), ergonomic & material handling hazards, exposures to hazardous chemicals and physical agents, safety training & instruction, OSHA and EPA regulations & related standards of care, workers compensation subrogation, and procedures for the proper handling and disposal of hazardous wastes.
Ron is a graduate of Drexel University, and West Chester University where he holds a M.S. in Environmental Health. He is a member of numerous professional organizations such as the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES), and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH).