Wet Cement Burns Expert Overview

In this article, David A. Breitigam, a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) and Certified Safety Professional (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 Burn Expert Witness Investigations

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. Concrete is ubiquitous on construction sites because it is easy to work with, versatile, durable, and economical. It is used by thousands of workers on construction sites every day, as well as by do-it-yourselfers on residential projects. The hazards of wet cement are subtle and injuries from exposure can be delayed but severe.

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.

Chemical Burn PH Scale Expert Witness

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.

Hazard Control

Direct skin contact with wet cement can be effectively controlled by 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 skin contact.

Clothing worn as protection from fresh wet cement should not be allowed to become saturated with moisture as 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 Safety Data Sheet (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.

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Featured Expert

David A. Breitigam, Industrial Hygienist & Certified Safety Professional

David A. Breitigam, CIH, CSP

Industrial Hygienist & Certified Safety Professional
David Breitigam is a Certified Industrial Hygienist and a Certified Safety Professional with nearly thirty years of professional experience involving manufacturing and processing operations, including… read more.

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