Concrete burns are just that, burns that are caused by skin’s exposure to concrete and other materials that can lead to a chemical reaction. Concrete burns work slowly over hours or days as the concrete hardens. In order for concrete to harden, it has to absorb moisture—cement can draw water away from anything that has moisture—even wet clothing—which only aids in the drying process. Once concrete hardens, if left untreated, skin begins to blister, swell, and bleed; second and third degree burns follow soon after. Severe cases of concrete skin irritation can lead to permanent scarring and require skin grafts or amputations. Not only is this painful and distressing to the worker, but it is harmful to their employer as well— OSHA reports that concrete workers in the U.S. lose four times as many work days for skin problems compared to other construction trade workers.
If cement makes contact with your skin, immediately wash with cool, clean water. If your protective gear gets wet, change it out. Wash any exposed areas of skin even if you’re not aware of contact—concrete burns can take hours to form.
If you experience a cement burn, after washing your skin with water, apply vinegar to reduce the burn. Vinegar is a weak acid, so it will counteract the alkaline and help to balance your pH. Seek professional medical attention right away if a large area of skin is burned.
Prolonged exposure to cement can make you susceptible to Irritant Contact Dermatitis (ICD). ICD will cause skin to itch, scab, and become red or swollen. Multiple ICD experiences can lead to Allergic Contact Dermatitis (ACD), a long-term sensitivity to the chemicals in cement.
ACD is difficult to cure, but short term treatments include antibiotics for infections, steroids, antihistamines, and repeated washing with a pH neutral cleanser. Because ACD and ICD take days to develop, bring persistent skin problems to your doctor’s attention as soon as possible.
As is often the case, prevention is the best cure. Invest in high-quality personal protective equipment (PPE) and make sure everyone is trained on how to use and care for it. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that workers who deal with cement wear PPE, such as:
Supplying employees with proper PPE decreases time loss injuries, thereby increasing employee productivity. It’s the easiest way to reduce burn-related incidents from wet cement and send your workers home safe.
Download a copy of our Cement Burns Infographic below:Download PDF