There are multiple ways in which people can potentially get injured on a building site - many of which can be avoided with risk assessments and due care and attention from employees.

Operating in the cement industry is no different and there are several different types of injuries cement can cause to workers.

How can cement harm workers?

Cement is a binding agent used to fix other items together in the building industry. So, a fence post may be secured using cement. However, cement is rarely used on its own; it is often mixed with sand or gravel to make concrete.

Due to the properties, chemical makeup and use of cement, it can cause harm to those exposed and working with it. When working with cement, it is vital to wear protective clothing which covers the skin (and any clothing you don't want to risk getting damaged), as well as breathing and eye protection PPE.

You should also wear waterproof gloves. If they are not fully waterproof, gloves or clothes that have become damp from wet concrete can transfer alkaline-heavy concrete to the skin. Rubber boots are recommended if there is a need to stand in the cement while wet, and you should wear knee and elbow pads if you need to finish the cement.

You may want to tuck trousers and shirts into boots, gloves and each other to fully protect all skin and make clothing airtight.

It is highly alkaline

Cement is strongly caustic when wet, with a pH of around 13.5. This can cause severe burns on bare skin and needs to be washed off promptly. Even when cleaned off, the instant contact may have still caused long-term effects, such as heightened sensitivity of the skin.

The setting process is exothermic

This means that heat is released when the cement starts to set. Hopefully, any cement which comes into contact with clothing or skin will be wiped away before it begins to set, but it can still burn the skin or material even with short-term contact.

Concrete can be abrasive

When cement is mixed with sand, gravel and other rough materials, this produces concrete. It is the most common use for cement in the construction industry. When wiped, this material can be very abrasive, again harming skin and causing reactions.

It is heavy

Both concrete and cement material is heavy in both its liquid and solid forms and people could be injured while lifting or carrying bags of cement or concrete blocks across the site, or when using a wheelbarrow to move the mixture to a hole that needs filling.

The Health and Safety Executive notes more than a third of reports of injuries lasting more than three days it receives are caused by manual handling. This is when loads are transported either by hand or using bodily force.

Dry cement can cause respiratory issues

Pre-mixed, dry cement is kind of like a powder. Like all powders, it can become airborne when disturbed. So, it is at risk of causing respiratory issues if breathed in or eye issues if it comes into contact with the face or hands.

This is why it is essential to wear the correct PPE when on site and when working with materials.

It requires machinery

Cement mixers are a common sight on building projects and many companies may use tool hire services to acquire them for a project. However, they should ensure any employees are trained in how to use them and are fully competent before they start mixing cement. Read our guide on working safely with cement to see what else needs to be in place.

How can I minimise the risks when using concrete and cement?

Follow all of the above advice, as summarised:

  • Wear full PPE
  • Know the risks
  • Be aware of where and when cement is being used
  • Only use machinery if trained & confident in doing so

Employers have a duty to avoid any hazardous manual handling on a building site whenever possible, as well as assess and reduce the risk of injury from any potentially dangerous manual handling if it cannot be avoided.

These rules could help to reduce the risk of these types of accidents occurring on a building site on which workers are dealing with concrete and moving it around.

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