Solution Summary: Good Work Practices for Working with Cement
Wet cement is highly caustic and contains sensitizing chromium. Contact with wet cement can cause serious skin conditions including allergic reaction and caustic burns. Cement masons and others who work with wet concrete may lose work time or even be unable to continue in the trade because of cement related skin disease.
Good work practices while working with cement involve:
- Selecting proper protective equipment and using it
- Wearing long sleeves and pant legs
- Promoting hand washing by having 5 to 7 gallons of running water per worker per day.
- Not using water contaminated by cement to wash
- Not washing with abrasive soaps or solvents, including alcohol wipes or limonene based cleansers (usually have a citrus odor).
- Using cleaning products that are pH neutral
- Removing gloves correctly
Wet cement is highly caustic and contains skin sensitizing chromium. Contact with wet cement can cause serious skin conditions including allergic reaction and caustic burns. Cement masons and others who work with wet concrete may loose work time or even be unable to continue in the trade because of cement related skin disease.
To protect against skin disease from wet cement
- Select proper protective equipment and require correct use
- Require the wearing of long sleeves and pant legs.
- Provide butyl or nitrile gloves (not leather or fabric) in a range of sizes. Gauntlets must be long enough to allow taping under sleeves. Suppliers include Best Gloves and Ansell-Edmont.
- Encourage glove liner use to make gloves more comfortable
- Require daily cleaning or disposal of gloves. Disposable gloves may be your best choise.
- Ensure the disposal of gloves that are grossly contaminated, damaged or which have cement on the inside.
- Protective boots should be used if there may be significant foot contact.
- Protective knee pads should be worn if the worker will be kneel on the wet cement.
- Tape sleeves and pant legs inside gloves and boots.
- Provide a change area to change from work clothes and plastic bags to transport cement covered clothing.
Promote hand washing
- 5 to 7 gallons of running water per worker per day is required for proper hygiene. Do not use cement contaminated water to wash.
- Hands should be washed before putting gloves on and anytime they are removed.
Provide PH neutral of acidic soap
- Soft soaps: Aloe Vera 80, Cetaphil, Dial, Dove, Gillette Wash, Ivory, Jergens, Lever 2000, Neutragena, Noxema, pHisoderm, Softsoap
- Bar Soaps: Caress, Dove, Oil of Olay
- Prohibit washing with abrasive soaps or solvents, including alcohol wipes or limonene based cleansers (usually have a citrus odor).
- Discourage the used of lanolin or skin softening agents at work or the use of petroleum jolly to treat chemical burns.
- Gloves should be thoroughly rinsed if they will be reused.
- Discourage the wearing of watches or jewelry on the job. They can trap cement underneath.
Train workers to remove gloves correctly
- Rinse gloves before removing them
- Hold hands down and loosen both gloves
- Remove the first glove only to the fingers, Palm should be covered by the cuff
- Remove the second glove with the first glove. Both gloves should slip off.
- Handle gloves only by the inside.
Workers who are exposed to Portland cement and products containing Portland cement can get occupational skin diseases. Due to the cement's abrasive, alkalinic, and hygroscopic (drawing moisture from the skin) properties, the occupational skin diseases may include irritant contact dermatitis, allergic contact dermatitis (from sensitizers such as hexavalent chromium) and caustic burns. Good work practices while handling cement can reduce those health and injury risks.
How Risks are Reduced:
Wet Cement is caustic and contains chromium which is a skin sensitizer. The effect is only felt over time (hours to years). Protective clothing keeps cement and contaminated water away from the skin. By keeping the skin intact and balancing the PH, any caustic effect can be minimized. Removing dirt and jewelry keep cement from being trapped against the skin.
It is self-evident that contact dermatitis will be prevented if skin does not come in contact with portland cement. Skin protection programs have been evaluated for effectiveness in other industries and shown to be effective. No specific evaluation has been made of the skin protection program recommended here for construction workers. However, safety and heatlh experts believe that applying the same principles demonstrated to be effective in other industries will be effective in construction.
Effects on Productivity:
CPWR Publication: An Employer's Guide to Skin Protection
To obtain information, visit An Employer's Guide to Skin Protection or contact 1-301-578-8500
Return on Investment
Frequent hand washing is a simple and cost-efficient way to prevent contact dermatitis for construction workers exposed to wet Portland cement. The disease costs workers, insurers, and the government between $135 million and $679 million per year. By contrast, in addition to sparing workers the suffering associated with the disease, it would cost less than $1.5 million to prevent these illnesses. In purely economic terms $90 to $450 would be saved for every dollar spent.
A detailed analysis of costs and ROI is presented in The Economics of Intervention: Protecting Workers Who Come in Contact with Wet Portland Cement. A variety of possible illness scenarios, developed in this paper, shows individual costs, once a dermatitis illness requires medical attention, range anywhere from $110 to $43,000 a year – in a combination of medical costs, other out-of-pocket expenses, and foregone wages. The cost to government and Workers’ Compensation systems, in these scenarios, is anywhere from zero to $37,000 per case per year. These costs include, where applicable, Workers’ Compensation medical coverage, Workers’ Compensation cash payments, Unemployment Insurance, food stamps, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) payments, and job retraining.
Although this report focuses on the overall costs of contact dermatitis from cement, the detailed tables would allow you to estimate the costs to the employer in workers' compensation costs, loss of productivity, and costs for re-training.