Construction Health and Safety Consultancy and CDM Adviser Services

Do You Use Cement Every Day? The 5 Dangers of Working with Cement
Posted by David Cant on October 1, 2014

The 5 Dangers of Working with Cement

Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)Ok, I know you use cement every day and it’s not some strange and hidden substance to fear like asbestos.

But like it or not, carelessly working with cement is harmful.  And it’s precisely because it’s such a common material that it causes so many health problems with workers across the UK.

When you work with something every day you tend to stop respecting it and relax the way you handle it – that’s when health problems happen.

The HSE’s surprise spot checks on 560 work sites across the UK found one of the main areas lacking in sufficient safety was the way cement and other common hazardous materials were handled.

So let’s understand cement and make sure your workers are safe and healthy – here’s your quick guide;

How can cement harm you?

Ill health comes from inhalation of cement dust, skin contact and problems from manual handling due to the weight of it.  Here are the 5 problems cement causes workers;

  1. Irritant dermatitis

Skin contact with cement causes two types of dermatitis – a skin disease.  When you have either your skin gets itchy, sore, red, scaled and cracked.

With the irritant form, it’s created by the properties of cement just irritating the skin.  This often comes with the things cement is mixed up with too.

  1. Allergic dermatitis

Between 5% and 10% of construction workers have an allergy to something in the cement called hexavalent chromium.   Plasterers, bricklayers and concreters are most at risk.  And working with cement can lead to this sensitivity, this allergy, which then later leads to the dermatitis.

  1. Cement burns

Your skin can get actually burned by wet cement.  These burns can take months to heal, and can even lead to skin grafts, or amputation in extreme cases.

It happens when wet cement is trapped against your skin. Never kneel in wet cement, or allow any to get trapped in your boot or glove!

  1. Inhaling cement dust

This irritates the nose and throat, and more dangerously cement dust may contain silica – see our post on the dangers of that nasty customer.  Producing or handling cement leads to these dust clouds.

  1. Manual handling

Of course, this isn’t a chemical or illness-related risk of working with cement.  But handling heavy cement bags, or mixing mortar incorrectly, leads to so many sprains, strains and muscular problems in the backs and shoulders of workers it’s certainly worth a mention!

8 Steps to Avoid Harm from Cement

  1. Eliminate or reduce use of cement – firstly, like any hazardous substance, think; is there a way to replace it?
  2. Educate your workers well – make sure they take cement seriously
  3. Wash well, and wash often – always wash your skin with warm water and soap after using cement.  And dry your skin afterwards.  Make sure you wash up the forearms, not just the hands.
  4. Wear long-sleeved shirts and trousers – keep your skin protected.
  5. Wear gloves – just make sure it’s hard for any cement to fall and get trapped under the gloves, which can lead to skin burns.  So no short sleeves and gloves!
  6. Check your worker’s skin regularly – watch out for any signs of dermatitis
  7. Use ready-mixed concrete – this reduces exposure to dust, and think of other ways too
  8. Reduce the manual handling of cement – for example, get 25kg bags of cement or order in bulk supply

Got any questions about how to use cement wisely and safely?

Ask away!


David Cant is a Chartered Safety and Health Practitioner extraordinaire. He has a wealth of Industry experience and is the MD of Veritas Consulting. David also Blogs about Health and Safety here Health and Safety Consultants

His aim is to flavour Health and Safety with integrity, served with a side of humour You can find David on - Twitter and Google also Linkedin

This post has been filed in: Construction Health and Safety, Health and Safety Consultancy, Health and Safety Services

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