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Concrete Dust on Commercial Worksites: Health Risks and Safety Measures

Concrete Dust on Commercial Worksites: Health Risks and Safety Measures

1st Dec 2023

Cement is used in a variety of construction products. Most commonly it can be found in the production of concrete. Concrete is a mix of cement, water, and aggregates that can be found in nearly every construction project throughout the world.

Whether you are mixing up a batch of concrete or repair mortar, or drilling, sawing, or grinding hardened concrete, you may be exposed to cement and concrete dust. It might not be possible to eliminate the dust, but it is possible to use cement and concrete safely by controlling the dust.

Concrete And Cement Dust Health Hazards

Cement and concrete are building materials that can be used safely. Cement dust is a health hazard, and you need to protect yourself when using concrete and cement materials. Whether you are mixing up a batch of concrete, or drilling into concrete materials, you may be exposed to cement and concrete dust.

Cement Dust Inhalation

You should avoid inhaling excessive amounts of cement or concrete dust; it's especially important to avoid getting this dust in your lungs. It might surprise you to know that concrete and cement dust contain 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 thousands of workers throughout the world each year.

Concrete and mortar can contain up to 25%-70% silica. These concentrations can be very high. The higher the level of silica, the more at risk you are from silica-related lung disease.

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. This is covered 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!

Dust Mask

When you think about dust hazards, the first item of PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) you might consider is a dust mask. But why do we need to protect our lungs when it comes to concrete and cement dust?

When producing cement and concrete dust, always 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.

With the seriousness of silica dust and its deadly effects, there are now legal requirements to protect workers from silica dust exposure. You should think about more than just dust masks to reduce dust exposure. Consider damping the area down with water, increasing the ventilation, and extracting and capturing the dust.

Cement Dust Skin Damage

Cement-based products, like bagged cement or mortar, can cause serious skin problems such as dermatitis and burns if they encounter your skin. 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 first contact. Regular contact with concrete and cement dust, wet or dry, can lead to irritant contact dermatitis. This is a painful skin condition where the skin becomes red, dry, swollen, and cracked. 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.

Cement Dust in Eyes

As explained, you do not want cement dust in your lungs, or on your skin, you also don't want it in your eyes! When cement and concrete dust enter your eyes, it can react with the natural moisture lubricating the eye. 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 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.

Cement Dust Controls

If you are working in construction, it's going to be nearly impossible to avoid cement and concrete dust entirely. It's a very 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 safely, by controlling health hazards.

Controlling Exposure at the Source

A few dust-reducing methods are water suppression, dust extraction, ventilation, dust vacuum, and avoiding dry sweeping that kicks dust into the air. PPE (like dust masks) might be the first control you think of when it comes to dust exposure. But, unlike PPE, these collective protective methods will protect everyone, rather than personal protective measures that only protect an individual.

One of the most common methods to reduce dust on the job site is using a dust extractor or vacuum that connects to the dust-producing piece of equipment.

A dust extractor, also known as a dust collector or vacuum, is an important piece of equipment that helps to collect dust and other airborne particles in or from an area. Dust extractors come in many different types and sizes, but they all work similarly by using a fan to draw in air, trapping the dust particles in one or more filters.

Dust extractors are used in conjunction with dust-generating tools, such as walk-behind or handheld concrete grinders, concrete saws, concrete drills, and shot blasters, to ensure that the work area is kept as clean and safe as possible for yourself and others.

Using water while cutting, drilling, or grinding is another method to reduce airborne dust. With this method, the concrete dust being produced is mixed with water, creating a wet concrete slurry. When in a slurry consistency the concrete dust will not become airborne. The main issue with wet cutting is capturing and the proper disposal of the wet slurry. Niagara Machine has all the components needed for concrete slurry management.

It's important to wear and use PPE in addition to controlling the dust at the source, as an additional layer of protection and to get dust exposure as low as reasonably practical.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Around 4.6 million U.S. workers sustain injuries on the job every year in a multitude of ways. As if that’s not enough, these workplace injuries lead to a whopping 104 million days away from work! Many of these injuries are non-life threatening such as cuts, lacerations, and punctures. A huge number of them are preventable, if the workers had been wearing the appropriate protective gear. That’s why personal protective equipment (PPE) is crucial. You’ll be dealing with a lot of dust so a pair of safety goggles or face mask should be worn. Gloves will protect your hands and let you grip the hand tools better and protect your hands from wet and dry cement dust. Wear durable footwear that laces up tight to your ankle to reduce debris from contacting your feet and lower leg. Whether you are a first-time DIYer or a seasoned professional on your 100th job site, you should always make sure you have the proper PPE.

Niagara Recommendations for Health & Safety

Cement and concrete dust are very harmful to your entire body, inside and out. Having a safety plan before a project starts can eliminate almost any issue you might run into. Start by wearing the appropriate PPE whether it is a dust mask or covering all exposed skin. Keeping the dust and wet slurry off your body is an important task. Capturing the dust at the source is the best defense. A wet-cutting method or connecting a dust extractor to the equipment will reduce the health risk. Finally, once you are exposed to dust or slurry, wash and rinse that area immediately after you have encountered it.