Last edited 11 Dec 2020

Cement dermatitis

HSE information sheet, Cement, CIS26(rev2), published by the Health and Safety Executive states that: ‘Skin affected by dermatitis feels itchy and sore, and looks red, scaly and cracked. Cement is capable of causing dermatitis by two mechanisms - irritancy and allergy.’

  • ‘Irritant dermatitis is caused by the physical properties of cement that irritate the skin mechanically. The fine particles of cement, often mixed with sand or other aggregates to make mortar or concrete, can abrade the skin and cause irritation resulting in dermatitis. With treatment, irritant dermatitis will usually clear up. But if exposure continues over a longer period the condition will get worse and the individual is then more susceptible to allergic dermatitis.
  • ‘Allergic dermatitis is caused by sensitisation to the hexavalent chromium (chromate) present in cement. The way this works is quite distinct from that of irritancy. Sensitisers penetrate the barrier layer of the skin and cause an allergic reaction. Hexavalent chromium is known to be the most common cause of allergic dermatitis in men. Research has shown that between 5% and 10% of construction workers may be sensitised to cement and that plasterers, concreters and bricklayers are particularly at risk. Once someone has become sensitised to hexavalent chromium, any future exposure may trigger dermatitis. Some skilled tradesmen have been forced to change their trade because of this. The longer the duration of skin contact with a sensitiser, the more it will penetrate the skin, and the greater the risk of sensitisation will become. Therefore, if cement is left on the skin throughout the working day, rather than being washed off at intervals, the risk of contact sensitisation to hexavalent chromium will be increased.’

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