Contact Derm Toolbox Talk
This tool box session focuses on causes and prevention of skin problems
from Portland cement products. At the end of the session, participants
should be able to explain how to test the pH of skin and surfaces like
glove insides, car seats, and clothing. Participants also should be able
to explain that the alkaline pH of wet cement residue can be neutralized
with an acidic rinse or a buffering spray.
To present this session, you need a box of full range pH test strips,
distilled water, 2 plastic or paper cups, and a small amount of dry Portland
cement. To get pH test strips, call your local safety store or Markson
LabSales at 1-800-528-5114) or Lab Safety at 1-800-356-0783. For Neutralite,
call 1-800-850-3908. For Mason's Hand Rinse, call 510-527-5400.
To learn more about glove
wear and other protections, see
Save Your Skin: Wearing Gloves for Wet Cement Work
An Employer's Guide to Skin Protection for Work with Wet Cement
Contact the CPWR – Center for Construction Research and Training at 301-578-8500
material is supported in part with funds from the National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
through CPWR – Center for Construction Research and Training to a consortium of CPWR,
the Operative Plasterers and Cement Masons International Association,
and FOF Communications. The material does not necessarily reflect the
views or policies of NIOSH. Mention of trade names, commercial products,
or organizations does not imply endorsement by NIOSH, the U.S. Government,
CPWR, OPCMIA, or FOF Communications.
c 1999 FOF
A 15-Minute Tool
- Have you had at
least one skin problem in the last 12 months?
- Do you have the
- Do you have:
have any of these symptoms, you could develop a disabling, work-related
Among Portland cement
products workers, the most common skin disorders are dry skin, irritant
contact dermatitis, allergic contact dermatitis, and cement burns.
may include irritation, scaling, itchiness, burning, and redness.
dermatitis (ICD) can be acute or chronic. Symptoms include stinging,
pain, itching, blisters, dead skin, scabs, scaling, fissures, redness,
swelling, lumps, and watery discharge.
dermatitis (ACD) is an immune response involving the skin. Hexavalent
chromium in cement is a primary cause. ACD includes many of the same symptoms
as ICD. ACD is difficult to cure and may persist for years.
burns produce blisters, dead or hardened skin, or black or green
skin. If you get a cement burn, go straight to a burn specialist or
the emergency room for treatment. By the time you are aware of a cement
burn, much damage has already been done. A cement burn can continue
to get worse even after you have rinsed off the cement.
masonry trades lose work days from skin problems at 2.5 times the
national average. Concrete workers lose time at 7 times the average.
A statistically reliable survey of apprentice cement masons found
71% had one or more skin problems.
Skin disorders can
have one or many causes, among them:
conditions: cold, heat, sun, and humidity can damage skin or increase
the harm of other factors
- worksite materials:
Portland cement, admixtures
of use: How long the product is on your skin and how often you use
it can help determine whether it will cause a skin problem.
- it's abrasive
- it's highly
alkaline (caustic) when wet
- it absorbs
moisture from your skin
- it usually
contains sensitizing chemicals and metals, like hexavalent
pH is a measure of
the alkalinity or acidity of a material. Pure water is pH 7. pH
7 is considered pH-neutral.
The pH scale runs
from 1 to 14. Strong acids are less than pH 1 to 3. Vinegar is a weak
acid (3.5 pH). Skin is 4.5 pH.
Strong alkalies are
12 to 14 pH. Wet cement -- and lye -- are 12 to 13 pH.
Like the Richter
scale for earthquakes, the pH scale is logarithmic. For every whole number
increase or decrease, the pH changes 10-fold! The pH of wet cement is
one billion times higher than the pH of your skin.
Skin exposed to wet
cement becomes more alkaline. At higher pH, skin is more permeable and
absorbs more chemicals. Higher alkalinity also may encourage bacterial
growth, causing infections that worsen skin problems.
The MSDS may
list pH. Or you can use pH test strips.
To test dry
surfaces, moisten a pH strip in distilled water and
lay it on the test surface. For liquids, dip a pH strip in the liquid.
can also test your hands, your gloves or hard hat, a bar or liquid
soap, your car or truck seats.
An alkali is a caustic
material. Alkalies have a corrosive or irritating effect on living tissue.
Like acids, alkalies
burn skin. But alkalies are sneakier than acids. Alkalies damage skin
slowly. An alkali such as wet Portland cement can stay on your
skin for several hours before you feel the chemical burn.
Acidity and alkalinity
are measured on a pH scale.
Adding an acid to
an alkali tends to neutralize its pH. Adding vinegar to cement water can
drop the pH from 12 to 8. But it also generates heat.
may be a better choice than vinegar. Buffers neutralize both acids
and alkalies and generate less heat. Commercial products are marketed
for neutralizing the pH of Portland cement products on the skin. Neutralite
is a buffering solution. Mason's Hand Rinse is an acidic rinse.
In theory, either product or another similar product could be helpful
if it neutralizes cement residue on the skin surface.
and practice good hygiene. Keep your skin pH moderately acidic.
hands 2 to 4 times a day -- before eating, taking a break, when you
stop work for the day, and whenever you remove your gloves.
pH-neutral or slightly acidic soaps: pH 7 or lower. The best
soaps for cement products workers may be acidic, pH 5 or 6. That's
close to the pH of normal skin (4.5). These soaps tend to neutralize
the alkalinity of cement. Use pH neutral soaps at home too. pH-neutral
or slightly acidic soaps:
washing, use clean running water. If that is not available,
use multiple rinse buckets. Or carry a vinegar-soaked washcloth in
a plastic baggy to wipe your hands or use a buffering spray.
Avoid barrier creams.
The abrasiveness of cement can break the cream's seal. Applying barrier
creams in the work area can trap contaminants against your skin.
This paper appears in the eLCOSH
website with the permission of the author and/or copyright holder and
may not be reproduced without their consent. eLCOSH is an information
clearinghouse. eLCOSH and its sponsors are not responsible for the accuracy
of information provided on this web site, nor for its use or misuse.
| CDC | NIOSH
| Site Map | Search
| Links | Help