How to Treat Concrete Burn: Causes and Safety Tips

A hand holding a trowel

In construction work, handling concrete is a common task that exposes workers to the risk of concrete burn. Concrete burn refers to skin irritation or chemical burns that can occur when concrete comes into contact with the skin. To ensure safe handling and prevent cement burn, it is essential to implement the right precautions and practices.

What Is Concrete Burns?

In the concrete manufacturing sector, home to a workforce of over 250,000, the looming threat of concrete burns demands attention. Data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) highlights a troubling picture: annually, over 10 percent of these employees endure job-related injuries or illnesses, leading to 42 fatalities. Recognizing the grave health risks associated with cement burns is imperative. This section will explore the causes and symptoms of concrete burn, providing you with a better understanding of the potential risks involved.

What Causes Concrete Burn?

Concrete burn can be caused by prolonged exposure time to wet concrete, which contains high levels of alkaline substances such as calcium hydroxide. When these alkaline substances come into contact with the skin, they can cause irritation and chemical burns. Prolonged concrete exposure to wet concrete, without proper protection, increases the risk of concrete burns on the skin. 

Factors such as high concrete temperatures, excessive sweating, and wearing wet or damp clothing can exacerbate the severity of concrete burns. The pH level of wet concrete plays a significant role in the potential for skin irritation and burns. Concrete with a pH level greater than 12 is considered highly alkaline and poses a greater risk of burn upon contact with the skin.

What are the Symptoms of Concrete Burn?

Concrete burns on skin can manifest in various ways, depending on the severity of the burn and the individual's sensitivity to alkaline substances. The common symptoms of concrete skin irritation include:

  • Skin redness and irritation

  • Swelling and blistering

  • Burning or stinging sensation

  • Itching or rash

In severe cases, cement burns can lead to skin necrosis, which is the death of skin tissue. Prompt medical attention is crucial if more severe symptoms occur or if the burn covers a large area of the body.


Concrete Burn Treatment

Concrete burns can range from mild to severe, so it's important to take them seriously. OSHA recommends that more serious concrete burns on skin may require specialized medical treatment. This could involve cleaning out the wound through debridement or even skin grafting in extreme cases. 

Here are the steps for concrete burn treatments:

  1. Immediate Removal of Contaminated Clothing: As soon as exposure to wet concrete is noticed, carefully remove any clothing soaked with concrete to prevent severe damage.

  2. Thorough Washing: Rinse the affected area with clean, lukewarm water immediately. The rinsing should last at least 15-20 minutes to ensure all concrete residue is removed. Avoid hot water, as it may exacerbate the burn.

  3. Neutralize Residue: During washing, the National Precast Association and OSHA recommend adding vinegar or a diluted acidic solution to help neutralize the alkali burns. This step is crucial in concrete burn treatment to minimize the chemical reaction on the skin.

  4. Apply Sterile Dressing: After washing and gently drying the area, cover the burn with a sterile, non-stick dressing. Use a sterile gauze pad or a clean, lint-free cloth, and secure it in place with medical tape or a bandage.

  5. Pain Management: Use over-the-counter pain relief medications like ibuprofen and acetaminophen to manage pain and reduce inflammation. Always follow the dosage instructions provided on the packaging or by a healthcare professional.

  6. Seek Medical Attention for Severe Burns: The concrete burn treatment for severe concrete burns on skin may require specialized treatments such as wound debridement or skin grafting. Inform the healthcare providers that it's a cement burn, as the treatment approach can differ from thermal burns​​​​.

  7. Follow-Up Care: Adhere to any follow-up care instructions provided by healthcare professionals, including changing dressings, applying prescribed creams, and monitoring for signs of infection during the healing process​.


Construction workers wearing PPE to prevent concrete burn


Preventing Concrete Burn

To prevent concrete burns and protect your skin from irritation and chemical burns, it is crucial to follow proper safety measures. This includes wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and practicing good hand hygiene.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

When working with concrete, it is crucial to wear appropriate protective gear to prevent concrete burns on skin and ensure your safety. The right attire and equipment provide a vital layer of defense against potential skin irritation or chemical burns. 

Long-sleeved shirts and pants: Long-sleeved shirts and pants made of durable materials, such as cotton or protective fabric blends, shield your skin from direct contact with concrete. Avoid loose-fitting clothing that may expose your skin to the harmful substances present in concrete. Ensure that your garments fit properly and cover your body adequately for the best protection.

Gloves: Wearing work gloves is essential to protect your hands from coming into direct contact with wet cement, which can cause skin irritation or chemical burns. Opt for gloves made of materials specifically designed for concrete work, such as rubber or nitrile. These gloves provide a barrier against the chemicals in concrete and help maintain your grip on tools and materials.

Safety goggles: When working with concrete, it is important to protect your eyes from potential splashes or airborne particles. Safety goggles with snug fit and shatter-resistant lenses safeguard your eyes from any concrete debris or chemical substances that may cause eye irritation or injury.

Respiratory masks: Concrete dust and particles can be harmful when inhaled. Respiratory masks, such as N95 or P100 respirators, filter out these particles, ensuring you breathe in clean air.

Safety boots: Sturdy safety boots with reinforced toes protect your feet from falling objects or accidental contact with sharp tools or materials, reducing the risk of injury.

Hearing protection: Construction sites can be noisy environments, and continuous exposure to loud noises can damage your hearing. According to the OSHA Standard for Occupational Noise Exposure, wearing earplugs or earmuffs helps reduce noise levels, preserving your hearing health.

Wearing the appropriate PPE is essential for your safety when working with concrete. By following these measures, you can minimize the risk of concrete burn and ensure a safer work environment. 

Importance of Hand Hygiene

Keeping your hands clean is also crucial when working with concrete. Adhere to these practices:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and clean water after handling concrete.

  • Use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content if soap and water are unavailable.

  • Avoid touching your face, mouth, or eyes while working with concrete.


Best Practices in Handling Concrete

Proper handling techniques, including lifting and pouring practices, are essential to minimize the risk of concrete burn and ensure your safety in construction work.

Proper Lifting Techniques

When handling concrete, it is crucial to use correct lifting techniques to prevent injury. Always remember to:

  • Use your leg muscles, not your back, to lift heavy objects.

  • Bend your knees and keep your back straight.

  • Hold the object close to your body to maintain stability.

  • Avoid sudden movements or twisting motions while lifting.

Safe Concrete Pouring

Pouring concrete requires precision and caution to ensure a smooth and secure process. Follow these recommendations:

  1. Wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, long-sleeved shirts, and safety goggles to shield yourself from possible exposure.

  2. Position yourself in a stable and secure location before pouring.

  3. Pour slowly and steadily, avoiding splashes or spills that may come into contact with your skin.

  4. Use the proper tools, such as wheelbarrows or concrete pumps, to facilitate the pouring process.

Construction workers often face construction hazards, including the risk of concrete burn, due to the alkaline nature of concrete which can cause skin irritations or severe cement burns. Protective measures, such as wearing long-sleeved shirts, gloves, and safety goggles, along with proper handling and regular handwashing, are crucial in preventing these hazards. By prioritizing safety practices and equipment, workers can significantly reduce the incidence of concrete burns on skin and ensure a safer work environment. 


Concrete Burn FAQs

What is concrete burns?

Concrete burn refers to the skin irritation or chemical burns that can occur when concrete comes into contact with the skin.

How can I prevent concrete burn?

To prevent concrete burns, it is important to wear appropriate protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, gloves, and safety goggles. Additionally, ensure proper handling techniques and maintain good hand hygiene.

How often should I wash my hands when working with concrete?

It is advisable to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after handling concrete. This helps minimize the risk of skin contact and potential irritation.

How do you treat concrete burns at home?

The OSHA recommends immediately rinse the affected area with lukewarm water for at least 15-20 minutes, then apply a diluted acidic solution like vinegar to neutralize the alkali burns. Cover the cleaned area with a sterile, non-stick dressing, and consider over-the-counter pain relief while monitoring for signs of infection, and seeking professional medical help for severe concrete burn​​​​.

The material provided in this article is for general information purposes only. It is not intended to replace professional/legal advice or substitute government regulations, industry standards, or other requirements specific to any business/activity. While we made sure to provide accurate and reliable information, we make no representation that the details or sources are up-to-date, complete or remain available. Readers should consult with an industrial safety expert, qualified professional, or attorney for any specific concerns and questions.


Shop Tradesafe Products

Author: Herbert Post

Born in the Philadelphia area and raised in Houston by a family who was predominately employed in heavy manufacturing. Herb took a liking to factory processes and later safety compliance where he has spent the last 13 years facilitating best practices and teaching updated regulations. He is married with two children and a St Bernard named Jose. Herb is a self-described compliance geek. When he isn’t studying safety reports and regulatory interpretations he enjoys racquetball and watching his favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys.