Cement is a commonly used construction material, with various applications including concrete floors, walls, pavement, blocks, mortar, and grout. While thousands of construction workers handle cement daily without harm, it is crucial for those who work with or supervise its use to be aware of the health hazards associated with cement and the necessary safety measures to minimize exposure. Exposure to cement can cause various hazards, such as cement dust and wet cement, both of which pose their own deadly risks. Additionally, workers need to be mindful of other risk factors such as potential contamination with the product and inadequate use of machinery to mix it. Therefore, it is essential to implement appropriate safety protocols and equipment, such as Personal Protective Equipment, to prevent adverse health effects caused by cement exposure.
Exposure to cement dust can pose serious health risks to workers in the construction industry. Cement dust can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, causing discomfort and potentially leading to more serious respiratory problems over time. In addition, contact with cement dust on the skin can result in moderate irritation, as well as thickening or cracking of the skin, which can lead to more serious skin damage over time, including chemical burns. Furthermore, long-term exposure to silica dust, which is present in cement dust, can result in lung injuries such as silicosis and even lung cancer.
When working with wet concrete, it is essential to take precautions to avoid skin contact as it can cause skin irritation, which can range from mild irritation to severe chemical burns. Concrete contains a variety of compounds that can be harmful to human health, including hexavalent chromium, which is a known carcinogen. Hexavalent chromium can be found in cement and can cause various health problems, including lung cancer, skin irritation, and respiratory problems.
The severity of skin irritation or chemical burns caused by wet concrete depends on the duration of exposure and the concentration of the compounds present in the concrete. First-degree burns are the mildest and only affect the top layer of skin, while second-degree burns penetrate deeper layers of skin and may cause blistering and swelling. Third-degree burns are the most severe and can cause irreversible damage to the skin, tissues, and nerves.
Potential hazards for workers in concrete manufacturing:
- Eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation from exposure to cement dust.
- Inadequate safety guards on equipment.
- Inadequate lockout/tagout systems on machinery.
- Overexertion and awkward postures.
- Slips, trips and falls; and
- Chemical burns from wet concrete.
First Aid Measures
In case cement comes into contact with the eyes, it is crucial to flush them with copious amounts of water and seek medical attention immediately. It is important to check the fornices (the space behind the eyelids) for any congealed material. The likelihood of harmful ingestion is very low, but if it occurs, one should drink plenty of water and consult a doctor immediately without inducing vomiting.
If someone inhales cement, they should be removed from the affected area and placed in a well-ventilated space with fresh air. Prolonged exposure to high concentrations of cement dust can lead to coughing and phlegm production. In case cement comes in contact with the skin of a worker, it should be washed with water and soap.
Cement hazardous classification is irritant, which is normally a substance that causes slight inflammation or other discomfort to the body.
Hazard ID – Rating
- Health Rating: 1 – Slight
- Flammability: 0 – None
- Instability: 2 – Moderate
- Contact Rating: 2 – Moderate
When working with cement, it is crucial to wear Personal Protective Equipment such as gloves and long sleeves to protect the hands and arms. Other PPE that should be considered is a mask and eye proception when the worker may be exposed to cement dust. Proper use of PPE can prevent hazardous exposure, as cement dust can cause irritation to the skin and respiratory system, while dust and wet cement can severely irritate the eyes. Long-term exposure can lead to contact dermatitis.
It may come as a surprise that such a commonly used product in the construction industry can pose several hazards and cause significant harm to workers if not handled correctly.
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