Concrete burns can be a huge problem for both employees and employers, potentially leading to serious injuries, lost workdays, and loss of trade for a company. Burns from concrete (or cement) are a common problem for industries that use the material, but they are also a preventable problem if the correct safety procedures are followed. It’s also highly important that workers know how to treat concrete burns quickly and efficiently to limit the damage to skin and stop symptoms from worsening.

What causes concrete burns?

In simple terms, concrete burns are caused by direct contact with wet concrete. Dry cement contains calcium oxide, a relatively harmless substance. Once water is added, calcium hydroxide is formed which is an extremely alkaline substance that can reach a pH of 12 or 13. The human skin’s natural pH is 5.5 and is, therefore, not used to this level of alkalinity. Other harmful properties of wet cement include its ability to be abrasive to the skin’s surface, to absorb moisture from the skin and to also possibly cause allergic dermatitis.

What makes concrete burns more difficult to recognise and manage is that initially the worker may not feel any pain or notice anything visibly wrong, meaning that the wet concrete can remain on the skin for hours, causing prolonged exposure and damage to the skin. Concrete burns often discolour the skin to a red or blue-purple colour, and can lead to inflammation, blistering or other types of skin irritation.

How do I prevent concrete burns?

The most effective burn prevention method is education and training of employees. It ensures that workers are aware of the hazards of this material, in addition to teaching them appropriate, safe cement handling techniques.

A safety plan should be created for each workplace. Employers should also make sure that they have appropriate equipment at hand to treat any burns, including: a supply of running water, pH neutralisers such as special soaps or vinegar, buffering spray, clean towels, and pH indicator paper to determine the pH of skin and other surfaces. Also, workplaces should have general protective equipment available, such as goggles, gloves and appropriate clothing, which should be cleaned daily and stored in plastic bags to prevent contamination.

There are also things that workers can do at home to reduce the risk of burning. Work clothes should be laundered separately from other clothes. Employees should also try to use neutral pH or acidic soaps in their home to balance out their skin and reduce alkalinity.

How do I treat concrete burns?

  • Carefully remove any clothing that has been splashed with wet concrete, avoiding further skin contact with the wet concrete while doing so, and rinse the clothing later.
  • Avoid touching the affected area of skin.
  • Brush off any dry cement from the skin, then hold the affected area under running water for 20 minutes. Add vinegar or citrus to the water in order to neutralise the alkaline nature of the cement.
  • Once you have self-treated, seek a medical opinion.
  • Monitor your symptoms in the days after the incident, and contact a health professional if it doesn’t appear to be healing properly.

Here at Drilltec, we recognise the importance of working safely. We are commercial diamond drilling professionals, offering a variety of services including concrete cutting and sawing. To hear more about the services we provide, contact our friendly team today to discuss your needs.