Understanding the Dangers of Working with Portland Cement
Prolonged or repeated exposure to portland cement through direct contact or inhalation can cause serious injuries to construction workers, limiting their ability to perform work-related tasks. In severe cases, exposure can be deadly. The risks highlight the importance of proper training and the use of effective protective gear for everyone who works with portland cement.
What Goes Into Portland Cement
Portland cement is an ingredient used to mix concrete, mortar, stucco, and certain types of grout. It is composed of clay, limestone, gypsum, and other binding agents that are included to make the finished mixture strong and stable. However, it is these ingredients that also make it hazardous.
Portland Cement Injuries
Portland cement is extremely caustic and can cause chemical burns when it makes contact with skin or with mucous membranes. The most common areas for injuries are the individual’s hands and arms, knees, and ankles, and in some cases, feet. When inhaled, it can cause irritation to the lungs, nasal passages, and esophagus. The crystalline silica within the mixture can also cause lung cancer when inhaled.
Contact with wet cement is one of the most common types of injuries. The caustic nature of the construction material can cause burns to occur. When this happens, proper washing with a pH-neutral wash must take place immediately to contain the injury. More significant exposures require treatment with vinegar or other types of acidic substances followed by medical care.
Hexavalent chromium is a common ingredient within portland cement. This known toxin can cause allergic reactions that can persist long after exposure. In fact, once a worker has an allergic reaction to portland cement, subsequent reactions are likely to occur. These subsequent allergic reactions are likely to be increasingly severe.
Protective Equipment Reduces Risk
Workers should wear properly fitting gloves, long sleeve shirts, and pants whenever handling wet portland cement. Workers who are tasked with mixing dry cement should also use respirators and adequate ear protection during the mixing process. Employers must also maintain washing facilities equipped with non-alkaline soap and towels so that workers can immediately clean off following contact. Employers should also provide employees with proper training regarding the handling and potential risks associated with the mixing and pouring of portland cement.