Simple hand washing can prevent infection, and damage to the skin from materials like wet cement which causes serious skin burns and allergic reactions in some workers. While some sites may allow easy access to a hose or running water for washing, portable wash stations provide a readily accessible alternative.
Portable hand washing stations allow workers to wash their hands after handling hazardous materials or using the restroom. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states, “Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.” The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) requires employers to provide adequate washing facilities for employees that work with contaminants that may be harmful.
Section 29 CFR 1926.51(f)(1) requires that employers provide adequate washing facilities for employees engaged in the application of paints, coating, herbicides, insecticides, or in other operations where contaminants may be harmful to the employees. Facilities must be close to the worksite and equipped to allow employees to remove hazardous substances.
Employers must maintain such facilities in accordance with public health sanitation practices, including upkeep of water quality through daily change or recharge (or more often if necessary); toilets kept clean, sanitary, and operational; handwashing facilities refilled with potable water as necessary and kept clean, sanitary, and safe; and proper disposal of wastes from the facilities.
While construction workers commonly use a wash bucket for cleaning wet cement and other materials from tools, using the same buckets for hand washing is unsafe. Studies show that the water in buckets contaminated with cement is typically too caustic (pH 12, where lye or caustic soda are pH 14).
Wash Your Hands: The Right Way
When washing hands with soap and water:
The lack of adequate handwashing stations and cleaning facilities on construction sites increases the likelihood of dermatitis, caustic burns from extended contact with wet cement, or acid burns from muriatic acid or other hazardous agents that come in contact with the skin, and infection. Dermatitis, one of the most common workers' compensation claim, can result in injuries severe enough to result in lost work time and medical treatment. Caustic burns from cement can result in damage so severe that skin grafting is required.
Handwashing stations are not adequate replacements for eye wash stations or emergency drench showers, which may be necessary when using some hazardous materials that may come in contact with workers.
Flowing water (as opposed to a wash bucket) removes contaminants from the skin surface, preventing skin damage. Abrasive cleaning agents (like soap with pumice) should be avoided. Liquid soaps that are near pH neutral or slightly acidic (pH 6.8) are recommended to return skin to normal pH and prevent continuing caustic cement burns. Some spray neutralizing agents are marketed for cement work that may provide additional buffering of skin pH.
It is well established that handwashing reduces exposure to infectious disease. Scientists estimate that up to 80% of infectious diseases are transmitted by touch.
Handwashing is also considered a ‘best practice’ for reducing the risk of contact dermatitis. For construction workers that handle cement, 5 to 7 gallons of clean water per day is needed for each employee to adequately remove caustic materials. Workers should wash their hands before putting on gloves and when removing gloves. A soap that is pH-neutral should be used. Liquid soaps are more likely to be pH-neutral than bar soaps. Waterless hand cleaners are not sufficient.
CPWR has published ‘An Employer’s Guide to Skin Protection'.
There may be an increase in productivity due to less injuries and illnesses among workers.
Washing your hands is not a substitute for proper handling of hazardous chemicals. Workers should always consult Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to determine proper procedure for handling hazardous chemicals.
For more information, here is a source for MSDS .
Dan Anton, PT, PhD, ATC and Michael Milanoski, SPT – Eastern Washington University