Concrete Burn

Deep burns occur not just from fire or heated substances but also concrete or cement. A concrete burn, also called a cement burn, happens when skin gets in contact with dry or wet cement.

It is one of the most common construction injuries, and anyone working on a construction project is at risk.

How Does Concrete Burn?

The primary ingredient in concrete is cement, which is mixed with sand, gravel, and rock fragments. The chemicals in wet cement react with the water molecules in your skin when they come into contact, producing alkaline molecules that break down skin tissue.

Harmless calcium oxide, a molecule in cement, turns to calcium hydroxide when cement gets in contact with water. This is an alkaline element that raises the pH level of the concrete.

pH is the measure of a substance’s acidity or alkalinity. It’s a scale from 1 to 14, with one being the most acidic and 14 being the most basic.

The human skin has an average pH of 4.7. Any substance with a pH level in the extreme ends can cause chemical burns and damage your skin. When the molecules in cement get in contact with sweat and water molecules in the skin, the resulting reaction produces molecules that dissolve the skin’s collagen fibers. These oxygen and hydrogen molecules also break down fat and dehydrate the skin.

The reaction isn’t instantaneous, unlike thermal burns. You still have time to perform first aid measures to avoid prolonged cement burns. However, this also means you won’t feel any symptoms right away and can leave the wet cement longer in your skin than necessary. The longer the exposure to cement is, the greater the degree of the burn.

Cement Burn Symptoms

Cement burns can be hard to diagnose because it takes a while for them to appear after the initial exposure. You only experience symptoms hours later. Some of the common symptoms are:

  • Pain
  • Blistering
  • Itchiness
  • Redness
  • Dry skin
  • Scabbing

These symptoms can be like other cases making it hard to diagnose further that the incident is already a cement burn. They also appear slowly and get worse progressively.

Cement Burn Treatments

Cement burn is easy to treat and prevent. Often, it doesn’t lead to severe medical treatments, but there are documented cases of severe cement burns, with some even leading to death. However, this is the exception rather than the rule. Here are basic first aid measures if you come in contact with wet or dry cement:

  1. Remove any jewelry, concrete-soaked clothes, or protective equipment.
  2. If there’s dry concrete, brush it off using clean towels.
  3. Wash the affected area thoroughly with clean water and neutral soaps.
  4. If you already feel the burn, flush the affected area with cool water for 15 minutes.
  5. Neutralize the burn with any acidic substance like diluted vinegar or citrus juice.
  6. Seek emergency medical attention if the sting doesn’t go away.

If you need to go to a hospital to seek medical treatment, tell the medical staff that you’re suffering from a concrete burn. They will rinse and dress the wound and prescribe antibiotics for any possible infection.

In severe burns, a healthcare professional will remove the dead skin cells and apply a skin graft– a procedure known as debridement.

Preventing Concrete Burns

Cement burns are easy to prevent. With the right tools and safety measures, you can avoid experiencing them. To prevent concrete burns:

  • Wear proper safety equipment when working with cement. These include safety glasses, protective clothing, and protective gear.
  • Wear high waterproof boots to prevent concrete from leaking inside. For extra precaution, wear your pants inside the boots and duct tape them to create a seal.
  • Wear well-fitting gloves, and don’t touch any wet cement directly.
  • Don’t wear jewelry or other accessories on a construction site. These can attract concrete, and it may be too late before you notice.
  • When removing work clothes, avoid getting concrete on your skin. Wash with pH-neutral soaps to remove any debris on your skin.

Painful burns like concrete burns are preventable with the proper knowledge and safety precautions. You can continue your construction project without any accident by ensuring the workplace is safe, and first aid treatment is available in case of unfortunate incidents.

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