Construction firms across the country rely on portland cement for its impressive adhesive property when mixed with water. However, the same tenacity that makes it such a reliable building material also makes it dangerous to handle.
Not only is wet portland cement highly abrasive, absorbent and caustic, but it also contains trace amounts of the toxin hexavalent chromium. As a result, contractors who work with the substance are at risk of developing skin problems that can grow from mild and brief to serious and chronic with increased exposure.
Cement burns, also known as caustic burns, can result in painful blisters and hardening, discoloring or even death of exposed skin. In severe cases, these burns can even extend to the bone, causing disfiguring scars or disability. As uncomfortable as these can be, cement burns often do not cause pain until long after exposure, making it difficult for employees to realize when they are being exposed to the toxic material. Because of this, proactive protection is essential for keeping workers safe.
Portland cement is an ingredient in many common adhesives, including concrete, mortar, plaster, grout, stucco and terrazzo. Because these materials are used so frequently across a number of different projects, the list of workers typically exposed to the cement is quite lengthy, and includes:
- cement masons
- concrete finishers
- hod carriers
- tile setters
- ready-mix concrete truck drivers
- bucket and buggy operators
- laborers involved in pouring and finishing work.
To protect these workers from painful cement burns, the following Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards outline methods of reducing exposure to the hazard:
OSHA regulations also stipulate that construction employers must give exposed employees access to washing facilities complete with clean water, non-alkaline soap and clean towels. These washing stations must be easy for employees to access, and there must be enough of them to adequately support the total number of employees who could potentially become exposed.
When portland cement is used at a worksite, OSHA requires employers to provide information about the hazard on material data sheets and labels made available to employees. Plus, employers must also train their employees about hazards and how they can prevent exposure. During this time, they should also provide information about available personal protective equipment and washing facilities.
Personal protective equipment (PPE)
Employers must provide adequate PPE, such as boots and gloves, as necessary for jobs involving exposure to portland cement. Not only must this equipment be provided at no cost to the workers, but it must be maintained in a "sanitary and reliable condition," according to the standard. If provided PPE becomes contaminated with portland cement, or otherwise ineffective, a system must be in place for employees to clean or exchange their equipment.
To learn more about toxic portland cement, see the OSHA guide here. For assistance developing and implementing an accident prevention program designed to reduce hazards at your work site, contact Safety Advantage today!