Concrete is one of the most widely-used construction materials on the planet. It is durable, versatile, cost-effective and generally easy to work with. Thousands of workers handle concrete every day, and you do not often hear about any consequences or injuries. This track record exists because many people are aware of the potential dangers of concrete, especially wet concrete contacting skin.
To make sure that your workers are doing their best to stay safe while pouring, mixing and generally working with concrete, follow these guidelines:
Wear Proper Protection
Just like any other aspect of construction, safety starts with wearing the right clothing. For one, hard hats should always be worn on job sites. With concrete, you will also want to wear protective eye wear that can prevent dust, debris or wet cement from touching the eye with painful consequences. Full-cover goggles with side shields may be needed in situations where concrete is being mixed or poured in large quantities.
Avoid Making Skin Contact
Concrete is not only abrasive, but the chemicals in Portland cement are made from limestone — a high alkalinity basic compound. Just like strong acids can cause chemical burns, strong bases in Portland cement can have a caustic reaction when touching skin. Prolonged contact can lead to severe burns, even third-degree burns. The hydroscopic nature of drying cement also means that the substance will draw water away from your skin, potentially causing subsurface skin damage.
Sometimes, the occasional fleck of wet concrete is unavoidable, but always take contact seriously. Remove the substance as quickly as possible, and wash your skin with a pH neutral soap and clean water. Any irritation should be cause for a physician’s visit. Large areas of contact or deep burns should be considered a medical emergency.
To avoid skin contact, long sleeve shirts and long pants should be worn. For larger jobs, waterproof gloves or rubber boots may be needed. Any clothing that becomes saturated with fresh concrete should be removed and rinsed immediately. Use waterproof pads when making contact with uncured concrete, including any hands, knees, elbows or any other body part.
Concrete Dust Can Be Dangerous, Too
The dust and fumes given off when dry concrete mix is poured or moved can be just as dangerous to your lungs as wet concrete is to the skin. Take care to store cement mix in a way that keeps the bags from tearing.
Always pour the mix in a well-ventilated area. Use caution in strong winds that could expose people not prepared for contact, such as other workers or pedestrians. People working near or directly with the mix should wear protective masks until the dust completely settles.
Protect Your Back with Proper Posture
Concrete is generally easy to work with, but it is also fairly heavy. All the ingredients used — Portland cement, sand, coarse aggregate and water — are all heavy by themselves, too. Protect your back when lifting these heavy components by using proper technique.
- Keep your back straight, with shoulders over your hips and navel pulled in so your spine stays straight
- Bend at the legs and lift with your thigh muscles
- Keep the weight centered between your legs and as close to your body as possible
- Do not bend or twist at the waist while lifting or carrying heavy items
- Get help when you need, either from other workers or equipment like hand trucks
- Place heavy objects as close as possible to their final position
Remember that wet concrete can be even heavier than the separate ingredients. When pouring, use a shovel to push — not lift — the wet mix into its form. Spread concrete smoothly and deliberately with as little horizontal movement as possible, which causes strain and can also segregate the mix ingredients.
Using these precautions should help workers recognize and be prepared for the potential hazards of working with concrete. Staying safe requires a small amount of effort, but results in a huge payoff of happy and healthy workers.