As of 2023, Illinois is one of five U.S. states reporting over 100,000 non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses. While healthcare reports the most non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses in the U.S., manufacturing accounts for nearly 335,000 reports and construction totaled nearly 163,000 incidents in 2022. Many costly workplace injuries are attributable to chemical burns from cement or concrete. Cement is one of the powdered ingredients used in making concrete. Typically, concrete is used for large-scale construction, while cement is used for smaller projects.
Understanding concrete burns
The safety hazard for many workers and contractors is exposure to wet concrete. When skin makes contact with wet concrete, the resulting injury is known as concrete burn. These injuries can typically be prevented when the proper protection is used. The concrete is actually cold to touch, but the chemicals and materials used to make the concrete are hazardous. When mixed with water, these hazardous materials undergo a chemical reaction, creating calcium hydroxide, a substance that chemically burns exposed skin tissue.
More on concrete burns
Other chemicals in concrete, like hexavalent chromium, are hazardous to human skin on their own. The severity of the reaction varies, depending on the circumstances of the construction accidents. Concrete burns are most common on the extremities, hands, feet and other places frequently exposed to wet concrete. If the contact is brief, and the area is properly washed, the adverse effect will be minimized. The frequency and duration of exposure correlate to the severity of tissue damage.
For road construction workers, daily exposure to wet concrete can result in dermatitis, allergic reaction and skin burns. Concrete burns typically worsen with time. These injuries begin as a reddish irritant contact dermatitis (ICD), that if left untreated, progresses to scabbing, pain and blistering. The injury eventually turns purple or blue, followed by extreme pain and skin deterioration. Ulcerations and open wounds may develop, leading to hospitalization, disfiguring scars or amputation.