For groundwork in the garden or DIY building jobs in the house, cement is a vital ingredient. But without taking the right precautions, this most basic of building materials can cause respiratory irritation as well as nasty skin burns. If you don’t want to end up in A&E, take heed.
DIYers with little experience of the building trade may not realise that when dry cement and water combine, it creates a powerful chemical reaction. Wet concrete draws moisture from skin and strips away protective oils and fats away so chemicals and metals can cause burns. Expose can also cause severe allergic contact dermatitis.
John Kilroe, managing director of Stockport-based Aardvark Concrete, urges DIYers to wear appropriate proper protective clothing when laying patio stones or cement bases in their home.
“There have been cases where people have actually removed their boots and socks and stood in cement in bare feet because they didn’t want to dirty their boots,” Kilroe says.
“It’s not uncommon for DIY enthusiasts to suffer terrible skin burns when coming into contact with wet cement, so it’s essential to wear proper clothing and eye protection.”
It is also dangerous in dry form. The fine abrasive powder can get airborne during handling and when inhaled it can cause irritation of the nose, throat and eyes because of the chemical reaction of the dust with the mucous membranes. Even brief contact with powdered cement can cause a skin reaction and experts advise people to quickly remove any items of clothing around the area, brush off any powder and rinse with clean cold water for at least 20 minutes.
Kilroe adds, “More and more people are getting stuck into home improvements, but jobs involving concrete should be approached with extreme caution. Suitable eye protection, good strong work boots and gloves are absolutely crucial.”
To safeguard against accidental skin exposure, it is recommended that people wear impenetrable gauntlet-type rubber gloves. However, even a tiny trace of cement dust remaining in contact with skin will significantly raise the pH level, so ensure that gloves are thoroughly clean inside. Some builders recommend that disposable gloves are used, but these must be able to withstand the caustic effects of wet cement.
High-length rubber boots can prevent contact with the skin. Trousers should overlap the boots rather than be tucked into them.
Goggles and dust masks should be worn when handling dry cement powder.
It is important to wash protective clothing daily and keep it clean and free from wet or dry concrete. Care must be taken to ensure that normal and protective clothing does not become soaked in wet concrete, as this could result in exposure over an extended period, resulting in skin damage that can be severe and even disfiguring.
When working with wet cement, make sure you don’t kneel in it. If kneeling is unavoidable, thick waterproof kneepads should be worn and a kneeling board should be used to prevent the knee pads from sinking into wet cement.
It makes sense to apply hydrophobic alkali-resistant barrier creams to arms and any areas of the skin that may accidentally come into contact with wet cement. If contact is made with the skin, wash the area in cool running water. If you treat the skin before it blisters, vinegar can be added to the water to neutralise the alkalis. Apply lanolin to replace some of the lost oils. If skin blisters, only treat the skin with water and seek medical advice.