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Common Concrete Construction Safety Hazards to Avoid

What are some of the most common concrete construction hazards, and how can you avoid them on the job?

Emily Folk
|Aug 16|magazine9 min read

A guest post by Emily Folk 

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Concrete construction provides the foundation for our homes and businesses — often quite literally. As with any facet of the construction industry, safety hazards are a part of life in this arena. So what are some of the most common concrete construction hazards, and how can you avoid them on the job?

1. Chemical Burns

Wet cement has a high pH due to the addition of calcium oxide. When mixed with water, it turns into calcium hydroxide with a pH between 12 and 14. If it comes into contact with bare skin, it can cause serious chemical burns.

Preventing this hazard is as simple as putting a dress code into play that requires full cover — pants, boots, long-sleeved shirts and gloves — whenever workers interact with wet cement. Safety protocols can also be beneficial in preventing this entirely avoidable workplace hazard.

2. Lifting Injuries

When it's dry, concrete is incredibly heavy. Depending on the formula, it can weigh up to 150 pounds per cubic foot. Improper lifting injuries are common in these situations, especially if a worker tries to lift a poured piece of concrete without the proper equipment.

This is another fairly easy hazard to avoid. Provide sufficient equipment for lifting, from forklifts and pallet jacks to cranes and anything else that's necessary. For situations where manual lifting is necessary, train your employees in proper lifting techniques. Lift with the legs, not with the back, and don't twist while carrying any heavy objects.

3. Dust Exposure

Dry concrete mixtures, among other things, contain silica dust particles small enough to breathe in. Continual exposure to silica dust can cause hardening in the lungs known as silicosis. Construction workers get exposed to varying levels of silica dust during the course of their duties. Over time, this can develop into a dangerous chronic health problem.

The easiest way to avoid dust exposure in concrete construction is to limit the amount of silica dust a worker encounters during their daily activities. If exposure is unavoidable, provide sufficient personal protective equipment to keep them from inhaling dangerous levels of concrete dust.

The source of the construction materials may also present other risks. Construction materials gathered from waterway dredging may also contain metals and chemicals that settled at the bottom of the river or lake from which it originated.

4. Falls and Falling Objects

Falling from great heights is always a risk in construction. It's so common that OSHA dubbed it one of the Fatal Four — the four most common causes of fatalities in construction. Likewise, falling objects in concrete construction are incredibly dangerous due to the sheer weight of cured concrete.

The two risks often go hand in hand, but both are easy to avoid by following established safety protocols and OSHA guidelines.

For falls, managers and supervisors need to provide fall-arrest equipment and enforce its use anytime a worker is far enough above ground level to create a risk. For falling objects, ensure that everyone wears the correct PPE and keep areas clear beneath objects being moved by heavy equipment.

5. Heat-Related Illness

Heat-related illnesses are a risk anytime you're outdoors, but working in construction puts you in a unique position that makes it even more dangerous. Concrete absorbs heat whenever it's in direct sunlight and releases that heat slowly throughout the day. In turn, this means that even crews working at night might experience higher ambient temperatures, putting them at risk for heat-related illness.

Heat illnesses are the easiest risk to avoid, especially since in many cases you won't want to pour or place concrete during extreme heat anyway. Provide plenty of water and electrolyte beverages like Gatorade. Encourage your team to take frequent breaks in the shade or indoors, and try to avoid the hottest hours of the day.

Avoid Common Concrete Construction Safety Hazards

It's possible to avoid many of the most common concrete construction safety hazards simply by paying close attention to proper protocols and procedures. Keep safety at the forefront of everyone's mind, regardless of their position, and you'll find it's much easier to avoid these common hazards.

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Emily Folk covers topics in sustainability and green manufacturing. She is also the creator of Conservation Folks

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