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Construction hazardous substances: Cement

Cement based products, like concrete or mortar, can cause serious skin problems such as dermatitis and burns.  This page tells you how to control these risks and why.

What you must do

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations says you must protect against the risks from cement-based products. Follow the Assess, Control and Review model. Pay particular attention to:

Assess

Identify and assess: Identify those tasks where cement based products will be used. Workers handling / mixing cement powder or using wet mortar and cement are particularly at risk. Check for any existing skin or allergy problems as this work could make these conditions worse. Follow the control steps below.

Cement powder is also a respiratory irritant. The dust produced while cutting, drilling etc dried concrete and mortar can cause more serious lung disease. More information on assessing and controlling this risk can be found in the section on construction dust.

Control

Prevent: Where possible think about eliminating or reducing the amount of cement used and contact with it. Consider:

Control: Even if you stop some of the risk this way, you may still do other work that might involve contact with cement. Control the risk by:

Train: Workers need to know how to use the controls properly. They also need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of dermatitis.  Finding skin problems early can stop them from getting too bad.

Review

Supervise: Ensure that controls such as work methods, PPE and welfare are effective and used by the workers.

Monitor: Appropriate health surveillance is needed to check your controls are preventing dermatitis. This could be done by a ‘responsible person’who can be an employee provided with suitable training. They should:

What you should know

Skin problems are not just a nuisance, they can be very painful and sometimes debilitating. Cement and cement-based products can harm the skin in a number of ways.

Wet cement is highly alkaline in nature. A serious burn or ulcer can rapidly develop if it is trapped against the skin. In extreme cases, these burns may need a skin graft or cause a limb to be amputated. Cement can also cause chemical burns to the eyes.

Cement also causes dermatitis. It can abrade the skin and cause irritatant contact dermatitis. Cement also contains hexavalent chromium (chromate). This can cause allergic contact dermatitis due to sensitisation. Manufacturers add an ingredient to lower the hexavalent chromium content and reduce this risk. This ingredient is only effective for a limited period as indicated by the shelf date. After this period, the level of hexavalent chromium may increase again. Once a person has become sensitised to this substance, any future exposure may trigger dermatitis. Some skilled tradesmen have been forced to change their trade because of this.

For more information on the effects of dermatitis see :

Updated 2014-09-11