Health Hazards of Cement

Cement is commonly used on construction sites in wide application, including road building. It is important to remember that cement is a chemical and can pose a threat to your health. Below are the hazards cement poses to your health, and prevention methods to avoid them.

Hazards

Cement

  • Cement contains alkaline compounds such as lime (calcium oxide).
  • Burns as severe as third degree can occur if skin or clothing are in contact with cement. 
  • Bleed water absorbed on a worker’s clothing can cause severe burns.
  • Cement dust from cutting, sanding or emptying bags and exposed body sweat can form a caustic solution cause burns.
  • Dust contains trace amounts of crystalline silica. Short term inhalation exposure can cause irritation to the nose and throat, choking, and difficulty breathing. Prolonged or repeated inhalation exposure can lead to a lung disease called silicosis, with symptoms of coughing, shortness of breath, and weight loss.
  • A small percentage of workers develop allergies to the trace amounts of chromium contained in cement. The respiratory allergy is called occupational asthma and causes symptoms such as wheezing and difficulty breathing. 
  • Chromium skin allergy symptoms can range from a mild rash to severe skin ulcers. The allergy can develop unexpectedly after years of exposure, and conditions will get worse slowly until a severe reaction occurs.

Prevention

  • To protect skin from cement and cement mixtures, workers should always wear personal protective equipment that fully covers all parts of the body.
  • Ensure specialty PPE, such as dust masks or safety glasses are available and used when dust hazards are present in a task.
  • Ensure all employees have WHMIS training, and know where to access information on cement used on site.
  • Wet-cut rather than dry-cut masonry products.
  • Mix dry cement in well-ventilated areas and always ensure to work upwind from dust sources.
  • Work in ways that minimize the amount of cement dust released, such as having different sized cement blocks on hand to avoid cutting. 
  • When kneeling on fresh concrete, use a dry board or waterproof kneepads to protect knees from water that can soak through fabric. Clothing contaminated by wet cement should be quickly removed. 
  • Skin in contact with wet cement should be washed immediately with large amounts of cool, clean water.