Has any experience been noted as to the cause of cement burns suffered by laborers or masons? I would also like to know how or why this occurs and the methods to be followed to minimize this rare occurrence.
All portland cement when mixed with water is alkaline. This is mainly because of the presence of small amounts of sodium and potassium oxides. Some of this is rapidly soluble and the concentration in the liquid portion of the concrete or mortar can often be, in effect, a 1 or 2 percent solution of lye. This is very harmful to the skin. This liquid produces a soapy feel. The workman who finds it on his hands often washes them but the problem is that it takes a very long time to wash off all the soapy-feeling liquid. He stands with his hands under the running water for a considerable period of time, thus giving the alkalies a maximum opportunity to attack his skin. Though he may finally succeed in washing all the material off he has meanwhile exposed his skin to the alkaline solution for a long time. He may aggravate the problem by washing his hands repeatedly during the course of the day. The simplest way to avoid this is to wipe the hands dry with a towel or rag whenever they come into contact with fresh mortar or concrete. If the alkali does not have access to water it has little opportunity to attack the skin. Of course if his hands are sweating he should also keep wiping away the sweat. At the end of the work period he should wash up promptly and dry thoroughly. This method does not completely eliminate all attack on the skin but it is quite effective and prevents serious burns. If this method is not adequate there is always the possibility of neutralizing the alkali by wiping the cementitious material off the hands and then dipping them in diluted vinegar (about 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water.) The soapy feel will disappear immediately on dipping in the vinegar. The hands should then be rinsed promptly.