The Safety Brief logo
The Safety Brief In our podcasts we give short but valuable overviews
and insights into how contractors and safety managers
can be even more effective in protecting their workers.
In our podcasts we give short but valuable overviews and insights into how contractors and safety managers can be even more effective in protecting their workers.

Cement Burns And Irritation

Cement burns and irritations are the #1 occupational skin disease in the U.S. Why is wet cement such a widespread danger? How do workers avoid it? Listen!

Cement is in concrete, mortar, tile grout and other common construction materials. And it’s rich in chemicals which are damaging to skin. In this podcast, Dan Clark points out that the pH of wet cement is so heavily alkaline, it’s caustic. It’s also hygroscopic, drawing moisture from the skin.

Dan describes the four main skin problems caused by cement, including burns and dermatitis.

Dan also gives common sense—and not-so-common sense—tips on how workers can avoid the dangers of cement burns and irritations.


intro music and effects


This man needs to borrow some gloves. FEMA/Sharon Karr

Dan Clark: Cement can not only irritate your hands, it can burn them. Protect your hands. You need them to pick up your paycheck.

Hi there, I’m Dan Clark of The Safety Brief. This is where we talk about health and safety hazards in today’s demanding industrial and construction worksites.

And, at those worksites, cement is everywhere. It’s a common ingredient in concrete, stucco, tile grout, mortar, plaster, you name it. With it all around, it’s pretty easy to just take for granted. But cement can be dangerous to the skin.



1. Cement Burns – These can look just as nasty as any burn from a heat source, and can be just as intense—second or third degree. They’re caused by longer exposure to wet cement.

2. Allergic Contact Dermatitis – Caused by an immune response after the body becomes sensitized to chemicals in the cement. Symptoms include pain, swelling, redness, and itching.

3. Irritant Contact Dermatitis – Not as serious as #2, but still a pain. Symptoms are similar—swelling, redness, itching, blisters.

4. Dry Skin – The least of the four irritants.

Why does cement cause all of these problems? On the pH scale of 1 to 14, wet cement is extremely alkaline at 12 or 13 pH. Our skin is slightly acidic in the other direction at 4.5 pH. That’s a HUGE spread. Because the scale is logarithmic, each number increase changes the pH 10-fold. So wet cement has a pH of… 1 billion times higher than skin. I’m not exaggerating. That difference in pH causes skin irritation, big time.


No sleeves – arms are exposed to cement irritation or burns.


* Wear gloves and rubber boots.

* Tuck the sleeves into the gloves, and pants into the boots, and then tape around the edges.

* Clean the PPE daily.


* Wash your hands before slapping on the gloves.

* Wash them again if you need to take off the gloves and put them back on for any reason.

* Use soaps that are pH neutral, or just a bit acidic. Many soaps are slightly alkaline, which can actually further irritate the skin.

* If cement gets on your skin, wash it with soap and water.


1. Don’t wear jewelry. It can trap bits of cement against the skin.

2. Change your clothes if cement gets on them. It can quickly soak through to the skin.

3. When taking off the PPE, don’t touch the outside of it.

4. Change clothes at work and carry the dirty clothes home in a bag so you don’t contaminate your truck or car. Wash them separately.

5. Only use moisturizers on clean skin. Lotion on dirty skin only seals in the grit.

That’s all for this episode on Cement Burns And Irritation. Come back for more ways to stay safety compliant in today’s ever-changing landscape of safety requirements. I’m Dan Clark of The Safety Brief, a service of Creative Safety Supply.


Printable tips from OHSA: click here

Man in orange boots © ℗ 2014 Photodune © ℗ 2011 Antonio Gravante
Man in white shirt © ℗ 2014 Photodune © ℗ 2009 Phovoir

sounds provided by and