27th July, 2023
Whether you are mixing up a batch of concrete, using cement in other ways, or drilling into concrete materials, you may be exposed to cement and concrete dust. It might not be possible to eliminate cement and concrete, but it is possible to use cement and concrete safely by controlling the risks.
Cement is used in a variety of construction products. But most commonly, it can be found in concrete. Concrete is a mix of cement, water and aggregates - and it can be found in nearly every construction project, and most buildings and structures.
Cement and concrete are useful building materials that can be used safely. But cement dust is also a health hazard - and you need to protect yourself when using concrete and cement materials.
Whether you are mixing up a batch of concrete, using cement in other ways, or drilling into concrete materials, you may be exposed to cement and concrete dust.
Is this dust harmful, and what are the risks?
You should avoid inhaling excessive amounts of dust, but it's especially important to avoid getting cement dust in your lungs.
It might surprise you to know that concrete and cement dust contains silica. If you don't know much about silica, in dust form, it's deadly. Silica dust is one of the biggest killers of construction workers, second to asbestos.
Silica dust kills around 800 people every year in the UK.
Concrete and mortar can contain up to 25%-70% silica so concentrations can be pretty high. The higher the level of silica, the more at risk you are from silica-related lung disease.
When you think about dust hazards, the first item of PPE you might consider is a dust mask. But why do we need to protect our lungs when it comes to concrete and cement dust?
Because of the seriousness of silica dust, and its deadly effects, there are legal requirements to protect workers from silica dust exposure. So you should think about more than just dust masks. To reduce dust exposure, consider damping down, ventilation and extraction.
Find out more about silica dust exposure limits, regulations and the law.
Apart from silica content, cement and concrete dust can be harmful by inhalation in other ways. On contact with moisture in your mouth, cement and concrete dust form a corrosive and highly alkaline solution. We cover this in more detail in the skin section below, but if you don't want this dust on your skin, you are not going to want it in your mouth, nose or lungs either!
When using or producing cement and concrete dust, protect your airways. Regular exposure to cement dust increases the risk of lung disease.
If you inhale or ingest silica dust, wash your mouth and move into fresh air. Seek medical advice if ingested. Replace your dust mask if it becomes damp or contaminated. Do not reuse disposable single-use dust masks.
Cement-based products, like concrete or mortar, can cause serious skin problems such as dermatitis and burns. Fine cement and concrete dust can land on exposed skin, and get trapped between loose clothing and skin. The dust reacts with sweat or damp clothing to form a corrosive solution, which will damage your skin.
Wet cement is highly alkaline. 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.
Even if you don't get a burn or an ulcer from contact, damage to your skin can still occur.
You might not notice the damage on the first contact. But regular contact with concrete and cement dust can lead to irritant contact dermatitis. This is a painful skin condition where the skin becomes:
Over time, allergic contact dermatitis can develop. This is a more serious condition, which can prevent you from working with cement or concrete because any contact at all cannot be tolerated by your skin.
Find out more about avoiding dermatitis from cement contact.
The good news is that manufacturers add an ingredient to reduce the risk of allergic contact dermatitis. But this only lasts for a limited time. So make sure that you use cement bags by the expiry date marked on them.
Wash cement off your skin if contact occurs. Change out of contaminated gloves and clothing regularly to reduce the duration of contact.
So you don't want cement dust in your lungs, or on your skin - you also don't want it in your eyes!
When cement and concrete dust enters your eyes, it can react with the natural moisture present. This can lead to redness, burns, or in more serious cases, blindness.
Chemical eye burns, such as the types caused by cement and concrete dust can just be a minor irritation, but they can also be extremely painful and life-altering.
If you get cement dust in your eye, wash with cool clean water for at least 15 minutes. Eye wash stations should be available on-site if you are working with cement. Seek medical advice if irritation persists.
If you are working in construction, it's going to be near impossible to avoid cement entirely. It's such a popular building product!
Now we know what the risks are, you can be careful when using or producing cement and concrete dust. It is possible to use cement and concrete safety, by controlling the health hazards.
You can reduce the risk by avoiding, eliminating or reducing exposure as much as possible. Here's a summary of the types of controls you can consider.
PPE (like dust masks) might be the first control you think of when it comes to dust exposure. But we are going to start with some more effective controls that prevent dust creation in the first place.
Unlike PPE, these collective protective methods will protect everyone, rather than personal protective measures that only protect an individual.
The types of PPE you can consider when working with cement dust include:
This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.
Search hundreds of health and safety documents ready to edit and download for your business.Find Documents
The law requires employers to protect the hearing of their workers. The Control of Noise at Work Regulations specify legal limits regarding noise levels and requires you to take action when the noise gets too loud. Let's look at the legal limits for noise at work.Read Post
High levels of noise at work can be bad for your health - and your safety too. Loud noises are dangerous. Your hearing can get damaged, you may have problems communicating. Depending on your work, even quiet noises can be annoying and make it difficult to concentrate.Read Post
Whether you are mixing up a batch of concrete, using cement in other ways, or drilling into concrete materials, you may be exposed to cement and concrete dust. It might not be possible to eliminate cement and concrete, but it is possible to use cement and concrete safely by controlling the risks.Read Post