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Safety in the cement and concrete industry – Part 1

World Cement,


Strict legislation, strong health and safety awareness and effective management systems are the key to providing a safe working environment where employees and their families can feel secure in the knowledge that they will return home unharmed at the end of each day.

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration in the US, more than 250 000 people work in concrete manufacturing. Over one year, 10% of these workers (28 000) experienced a job-related injury or illness and there were 42 fatalities.

Cement industry safety file

In May 2013, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s (WBCSD) Cement Sustainability Initiative (CSI) published revised guidelines on measuring and reporting safety in the cement industry. The safety of workers has always been a priority for the industry, but the revised guidelines refocus efforts on eliminating fatalities in the workplace altogether. The CSI identified driver and contractor safety as high-risk areas. Fatalities in this area are most likely to happen while driving or operating mobile plant equipment and contractors are shown to be more at risk than employees or third parties.

Additionally, anyone involved in the manufacture or use of cement should also be aware of the hazards that it presents. These include ill health mainly through skin contact, the inhalation of dust and through manual handling accidents. Wet cement is strongly caustic and can cause severe burns if it comes into contact with skin and is not promptly washed off. Similarly, dry cement powder can cause eye or respiratory irritation when introduced to mucous membranes.

The working environment also poses risks such as falls from height, driving or operating mobile plant equipment, exposure to noise and working in confined spaces. In each area of work a proper risk assessment should be carried out and the risk either eliminated by the introduction of safe working practices or through the provision of the correct personal protective equipment.

This article explores safety issues with some of the world’s leading health and safety specialists.

Wearing gloves is one of the simple ways to prevent cement dermatitis.

Measures to minimise contact

Exposure of skin to cement dust or wet concrete can potentially lead to burns, rashes and irritation. Occassionally, workers can become allergic if they have come into direct contact with cement over a long period of time. Some of the symptoms of dermatitis include redness or swelling, cracking of the skin and blisters on hands or fingers. It can take months or even years of exposure before such symptoms can occur.

Additionally, cement burns caused by the alkalinity of wet cement are also a risk. The burns often take months to heal and, in the most severe cases, can lead to skin grafts or amputation. Serious chemical burns to the eyes can also be caused following a splash of cement.

For workers it is critical that appropriate control measures are in place to minimise contact. A simple way to prevent cement dermatitis is by providing access to dedicated washing facilities supplying hot and cold running water and skin cleansers, with sinks large enough to wash forearms. Facilities for laundering workwear may also be necessary. Providing suitable gloves is also an essential part of personal protection equipment, but with so many gloves on the market it can be difficult to decide which hand protection is best suited. In the UK, glove manufacturer Polyco offers a hand protection assessment survey to organisations with 50+ glove users to help them to ensure they provide their workforce with the most appropriate protection.

Mark Mastrangelo, Marketing Manager of Polyco, said: “The survey asks a series of questions and drills down to identify the specific needs of the task. The results are compiled and our industry experts are then able to identify the specification of hand protection that would be most appropriate. The results are highlighted and delivered in a comprehensive report. The company can then confidently purchase gloves that will provide the most suitable protection as well as being comfortable to wear.”

Read part 2 here.

This is an abridged version of the full article, which appeared in World Cement’s May 2014. Subscribers can view the full article by logging in.

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