Material Safety

Preventing Ready Mix Concrete Chemical Burns

The primary irritant action of plastic (unhardened) concrete on the skin can be attributed to its abrasive, hygroscopic, and alkaline properties. Abrasive concrete components, such as sand and aggregate, can chafe the skin, thus weakening the skin's defense against attack by the natural causticity of plastic concrete. The sensitive skin of the ankles, shins, wrists, and forearms seems most susceptible to this type of irritation. It is likely that small particles of sand work their way between the skin and clothing and abrade the skin when the clothing rubs against them.

Finished Portland cement, which constitutes approximately 14% of the weight of concrete, is hygroscopic and, as such, tends to draw moisture from the skin. This can result in abnormally dry skin that can crack, thus further increasing susceptibility to attack by alkaline materials.

As a rule, finished Portland cement contains 0.2% to 0.8% alkali (sodium and potassium oxides) and 0.1% to 1.0% free lime. When water is added to the dry ingredients of concrete, a caustic solution is produced; prolonged skin contact with the solution may cause first-, second-, or third-degree chemical burns.

The experience of plasterers and masons demonstrates that workers finishing ready mixed concrete need not suffer chemical burns. The lime content of plaster and mortar is greater than that of Portland cement concrete, yet workers using these former materials are able to avoid injury.


Skin burns can be prevented by avoiding excessive contact with plastic concrete and by practicing good hygiene. Waterproof gloves and boots offer protection against the abrasive, hygroscopic, and caustic actions of concrete. Barrier creams, applied before work, can enhance the skin's resistance to the harmful effects of contact with plastic concrete and can help replenish the skin's natural oils. Since this type of burn develops without an accompanying sensation of pain, exposed skin should be promptly cleansed after work is finished. Clothing that has been wetted by contact with plastic concrete should not be left in prolonged contact with the skin and should be laundered before it is worn again.


Washing exposed skin promptly with water can reduce chemical burns involving ready mixed concrete. If any concrete gets into the eyes or if you feel any burning sensations, rinse immediately and repeatedly with water and get prompt medical attention.

Download Burn Safety Translation in Spanish and Hmong.

Safety Data Sheets

More Information

For more information contact: Mike Brekken at 651-686-4272.

msds MSDS datasheets