Concrete Burns: How To Prevent And Treat Them
Concrete burns are a serious issue for anyone who works with the substance, and for their employers. Despite this, concrete burns are relatively common due to the ease of which the issue can occur. The good news is that concrete burns are preventable and, when dealt with swiftly, can be treated easily too. In this article, we will look at the causes, treatment and prevention of concrete burns.
The cause of concrete burns is quite simple: direct skin contact with wet concrete. When water is added to dry concrete mix, one of the substances formed makes the mix highly alkaline, with a pH of 12-13. This is very different to the skin’s natural, slightly acidic pH balance of around 5.5. It is the alkalinity of wet cement which can cause concrete burns, which are in fact a type of chemical burn. Initially, the worker may not feel any effects of skin contact with wet concrete as the reaction happens slowly. However, if not dealt with quickly, the chemicals can cause skin irritation, pain, blistering and burns.
In addition to the alkalinity of concrete, wet cement has other undesirable, irritating properties such as abrasiveness and moisture absorption, the combination of which can result in the allergic reaction dermatitis.
Immediate treatment of the affected area is key to dealing with the onset of concrete burns. Without prompt intervention there can be serious consequences, from painful, dry, cracked skin to blisters and burns which can result in scarring and require the individual to have time off work.
Initially, you should remove any clothing which has gotten wet concrete on it for rinsing and cleaning. Next, wash the affected area of skin thoroughly with cool, clean water. After you have done this, apply regular vinegar or citrus – both of which are weak acids – to the area to neutralise the alkalinity. If a large area of skin or your eyes have come into contact with wet concrete, you should seek medical attention immediately.
Dermatitis can be identified from itchy, dry, painful and potentially swollen and blistered skin. This arises from a combination of the alkalinity and abrasiveness of wet concrete and will require medical attention to relieve. Treatments can include astringent soaks, antibiotics for fighting infection, corticosteroids and regular washing of the affected area with pH neutralisers.
As with most things, prevention is better than a cure. One of the most effective ways to prevent concrete burns occurring in your workforce is to educate and train employees in the hazards and safety procedures for working with wet concrete. Once aware of the potential dangers, employees will be able to work with the substance safely and effectively, whilst taking the necessary steps to prevent injuries from arising.
To enable employees to quickly deal with any potential causes of a concrete burn, appropriate equipment should be on hand at sites using wet concrete. These include clean running water, pH neutralising soaps, clean towels, topical buffer/neutralising spray and pH indicators.
Another important aspect of safety and prevention is ensuring employees are wearing suitable clothing and protective items. When working with wet concrete, safety goggles, waterproof gloves, long sleeved shirts and trousers, coveralls and rubber boots should be worn. Wearing such items will vastly reduce the likelihood of concrete-on-skin contact. Such clothing should be cleaned daily to prevent any wet cement seeping into the fabrics. Wash the workwear separately from other clothing and try to use a pH neutral or acidic soap at home too, for good measure.
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