Vic Mix

Contact Details

Head Office
161 - 171 Ordish Rd
Dandenong South, VIC 3175
Ph:  (03) 8792-3100
Fax: (03) 8792-3199

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Cement Burns

Cement (alkali) burns are a potential hazard of working with materials containing cement products. For this reason, Vic Mix is required to display a warning on its delivery dockets alerting users to potential health effects and how they should protect themselves.

Acute Irritant Contact Dermatitis – also called cement/alkali burn
Wet cement and wet cement products will wear down skin due to their abrasive nature. Once the skins surface is damaged, irritant contact dermatitis can occur. In the case of cement or cement products, it is the highly alkaline nature of cement which causes flesh to burn. Alkali burns do not usually generate heat or pain. Often, if the affected area is hidden from view, the individual is not aware that damage is taking place until it is too late.
Different people will react differently to a substance, and some people may not be affected at all. Some people can develop sensitivity to chemicals despite multiple previous exposures where no reaction was apparent. This is the nature of dermatitic reactions in general.

The following describes a real case that occurred in Victoria in 2003.
The privacy of the individual has been protected. Despite the unlikely nature of extreme cement burns, it is hoped that this information will teach and train others to treat safety recommendations seriously.

The gentleman affected by the burns claims he had repeatedly been exposed to wet concrete for many years with no significant problems. He had experience dry and sometimes cracked skin on his hands working as a Concreter and general builder/handyman, but never anything like this.

On the day of the incident, he recalled: 
  - Placing concrete on two separate jobs. A garage slab in the morning and a small pavement later that afternoon.
  - Knee high rubber boots were worn with trouser and overall pants covering each leg.
  - The boots were put on in the morning and not removed until the end of the day.
  - Kneeling in the concrete; his clothing around his knees became saturated at times and dried out as the day progressed also.
  - Feeling nothing other than a minor pin prick sensation below his knees.

By that evening, it was clear to him that serious damage had been done – he likened it to something like really bad sun burn.
Another person working with him had similar exposure to the same concrete products on the same day without being affected at all.

The damage is predominantly to the man’s upper legs and knees. It is likely that his clothing absorbed the highly alkaline moisture from the concrete. This moisture spread through his clothing and was massaged against his skin over the course of an entire day by his knee high rubber boots. The pin prick sensation he felt was the alkaline solution killing nerve endings and preventing him from realising just how serious the situation was.

Extreme reactions (like this one), are rare and usually involve contributing factors such as:
  - Work practices or environments which increase direct contact with the cement product
  - Failed PPE (personal protective equipment), or how it is used
  - The individual’s response or sensitivity to the cement product.