Working concrete on commercial and residential construction projects can be a dangerous job, even for skilled workers who have received extensive training. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, injured concrete workers are away from their work for 191 days on average, which is significantly higher in all other occupations (107.1 days on average). Nearly every concrete employee works with forms and tilt-up slabs that can pose significant dangers even under the safest working conditions. The known significant health risks associated with concrete work include:
- Falling hazards from working at great heights on slabs and ladders, with or without wearing a full-body harness,
- Caustic burns to the skin and eyes from the toxic compounds in concrete,
- Respiratory problems caused by concrete curing compounds,
- Cuts, scrapes, lacerations and puncture wounds caused by exposed nails when dismantling forms,
- Rigging and crane hazards when working with tilt-up concrete construction,
- Bruises, broken bones and other issues associated with vibratory compactors,
- Explosions and burns caused by fires when using butane,
- Falls when working on steep sidewalls and in footers,
- Impalement from exposed rebar,
- Eye injuries when exposed to dangerous chemicals and concrete,
- Crushing injuries from defective slings on cranes that lose their center of gravity,
- Broken bones and crushing injuries caused by unstable crane/lift outriggers,
- Impact crushing injuries from overloaded forklifts and concrete pumper trucks,
- Electrocution and electric burns from defective power cords,
- Vehicle accidents where construction site flaggers are exposed to dangerous traffic conditions.
At nearly every construction site, concrete workers and concrete finishers can be injured by exposed rebar ends that were not troughed or capped. According to OSHA’s CFR 126 regulation, employers are required to follow specific safety guidelines to protect the work environment and the safety of employees. These regulations must be followed when storing bulk cement, and maintaining concrete pumping stations, bull floats, concrete mixers, buckets, masonry saws, power concrete trowels, and other necessary equipment. Common duties associated with concrete working in finishing include:
- Finishing freshly poured concrete,
- Restoring and repairing concrete surfaces,
- Resurfacing and replacing damaged pavement, walls, floors, or another structure containing cement-based material,
- Straightening and leveling surfaces,
- Floating, troweling or texturing surfaces according to specifications,
- Protecting or curing concrete surfaces typically by applying sealing and hardening compounds, to restore or waterproofed the surface.
Even though most work is performed outdoors, concrete workers and finishers are typically exposed to dangerous chemicals and cement dust daily that could cause significant respiratory problems over time.
If you or a family member was injured while working with concrete, you are likely entitled to workers compensation benefits. Contact the workers compensation attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC for more information and a free review of your legal rights and options.
Concrete finishers smooth and finish surfaces after the concrete has been poured and beginning to set. Finishing work is performed on sidewalks, walkways, floors, curbs, and roads. The work requires the construction of forms to contain the concrete. Workers use various power and tools while handling with cement, aggregate, chemicals, and expansion joints.
Typically, the finished work is performed after the concrete is poured, tamped, screeded, floated and prepared for finishing using edging and troweling tools. Just before the concrete hardens, the finisher will apply a finish that could include an architectural, broomed, stamped, patterned, exposed, or a smooth finish to the surface of the concrete. The finishing work might also include applying epoxy-based material or dry pack grout to ensure the cement-based material properly cures. Common working conditions of the concrete workers and finisher involve:
- Standing, crouching, kneeling or bending a minimum of eight hours every day, and at times, required overtime until the concrete hardens and the job is complete,
- Exposure to hazardous weather conditions including excessive heat and cold,
- Exposure to hazardous pollution, dust, noise,
- Exposure to significant on the job hazards under dangerous conditions that might include sharp, and tools, falling object, slips and falls, malfunctioning power tools, and excessive heights.
Concrete Worker Wages
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics 2016 statistics concerning the employment statistics of the previous year, 1920 concrete employees were working in the Chicago, Naperville and Arlington Heights metropolitan area.
On average, concrete workers in northeastern Illinois earn $67,520 every year (mean wage), which is $32.47 per hour. The wage is significantly higher than the national averages. See Chart
Cement Health Risks
Portland cement is the active ingredient in manufacturing concrete and concrete-based products including mortar and concrete blocks. While the chemical in the cement serves as the hardening agent until the mixture is cured, exposure to the toxic materials can pose significant health hazards over time. The dangers to a worker’s health often involve toxic chemicals contacting the employee’s skin and eyes or inhaled as a dust or powder. The level of risk of severe injury often depends on the duration of exposure to the chemicals and the individual’s unique sensitivity to that specific toxicity.
Many concrete workers and finishers develop significant symptoms over time from exposure to dry and wet cement. Some of the symptoms include a persistent cough, a sense of breathlessness, skin irritation, rashes, hair changes on the body, hair loss and sneezing. Additionally, a long-term burning effect on the resident skin, eyes, lips, mouth, and throat have also been reported. Cement, the active ingredient in concrete, remains a common cause of developing dermatitis among all construction workers including those handling concrete and concrete-based products.
Common hazards associated with the components of materials and wet mortar in concrete involve:
- Chromium in trace amounts that are known to cause allergic reactions,
- Crystalline silica in trace amounts known to be abrasive to skin and eyes that can cause significant lung damage and other respiratory problems through inhalation,
- Calcium oxide (lime) and other alkaline compounds that are highly corrosive to skin and tissue.
Wet cement is extremely hazardous to humans because of the abrasive and caustic materials and chemically-induced drying property. When dry, concrete can wick away moisture from human skin while exposing skin pores to abrasive toxins. Concrete when wet, can cause skin irritation when exposed to the skin for a brief time. Continuous contact for an extended time allows the dangerous alkaline materials and compounds in the mixture to penetrate the skin and burn underlying tissue.
When the concrete or mortar mixture is wet, it has the potential to become trapped in the worker's gloves or boots, or soak through the worker’s protective clothes that could cause a serious third, second, or first-degree burns. Some workers develop skin ulcers that develop too constant exposure and irritation to the skin. Healing from severe concrete-associated injuries often requires hospitalization, skin grafts and skin rejuvenation that could take many months.
Many concrete workers and finishers suffer severe injuries even while wearing protective clothing or personal equipment. Employees are often exposed to residual corrosive ‘bleeding’ water that rises to the top of the poured concrete that can soak through clothing, especially on knees and lower legs.
When the worker's eyes are exposed to airborne chemicals and dust, the eyes, eyelids and surrounding tissue can become significantly irritated immediately or over time. This exposure can lead to serious chemical burns of eye tissue and eventually blindness. Mild cases tend to result in the reddening of the eye.
Exposure to cement powder from opened bags or by grinding, sanding, or cutting concrete can release excessive amounts of toxic dust that contain crystalline silica. Repeated and prolonged exposure to harmful chemicals can cause disabling silicosis, a severe lung disease that is often fatal. Numerous research studies have linked a correlation between the development of lung cancer and exposure to crystalline silica.
Exposure to concrete dust released during the mixing process as cement is dumped into the mixer can irritate the worker’s skin and cause considerable damage to the lungs. Additionally, sweat, water, and other moisture on clothing can react to toxic chemical dust and quickly form a hazardous caustic wet solution.
Injuries caused by inhalation over a brief time can irritate the nose and throat, make breathing difficult, and cause choking. Injuries developed over an extended time can cause life-threatening respiratory problems, even if the employee receives care. These injuries usually present many years after the initial exposure.
Allergic Skin Reaction
Some concrete workers and finishers develop serious allergic conditions after being exposed to hexavalent chromium, the active hardening ingredient in cement. While some workers develop mild symptoms involving a minor rash, others develop severe skin ulcers that can become life-threatening quickly.
Scientists have discovered a direct correlation between the development of respiratory allergies and exposure to hexavalent chromium. These workers tend to develop occupational asthma over time.
Concrete Worker Fatalities and Injuries
According to statistics maintained by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), there were numerous fatalities and severe injuries of concrete workers in Illinois and throughout the United States. Some of these cases involve:
- Case 1: August 2017, Austin Texas – A worker is crushed to death while unstrapping a concrete beam. On August 9, 2017, at midmorning, a worker was “unstrapping Double T concrete beams" when the wall made of pre-cast concrete fell and killed the employee.
- Case 2: May 2017, Coppell Texas – A worker is killed after being struck by a concrete pump. In the early morning hours of May 15, 2017, the worker was pouring concrete when a concrete pump failure occurred. The end section of the pump fell on the worker. The severe blunt force trauma to the worker’s upper back caused his death.
Staying Safe on the Job
Employers must provide basic recommendations on how to control the environment, maintain safety, and protect the workers who might be handling, using, or finishing cement-based products including concrete. Safety measures should include the use of personal protection, work practices, hygiene, training, and the quick access to first-aid.
- Personal Protective Clothing and Equipment – The worker should take appropriate measures to wear personal protection that includes:
- Gloves that are highly resistant to alkali,
- Waterproof knee-high boots that repel concrete and residual corrosive ‘bleeding’ water,
- Respiratory protective equipment including respirators (N, P, & R 95 Rated) to avoid airborne exposure to cement dust,
- Safety eye protection when mixing or pouring concrete or around other activities and exposures that could endanger the worker's eyes (avoid wearing contact lenses that could cause extensive damage or blindness).
- Sensible Work Practices – There are specific appropriate measures to follow at the job site to maximize safety. These practices include:
- Cut concrete with a wet saw instead of a dry saw to minimize exposure to toxic dust.
- Use varying-sized concrete blocks to avoid the need to cut and create dust,
- Mix dry concrete only in areas with adequate ventilation.
- Never wear jewelry including watches or rings that could trap wet cement,
- Always wear protective kneepads fabricated with waterproof materials along with a dry board to minimize the potential of any soak through of toxic material into the clothing fabric.
- Work in areas where the dust moves upwind and away from the job site and workers,
- Pour only ready-mix concrete to avoid dry mixtures.
- Hygiene Practices – Certain steps taken by every concrete worker and finisher can minimize the potential for harm while working around cement-based products. These measures include:
- Quickly remove any clothing contaminated by wet toxic cement,
- Immediately rinse away any wet cement in contact with skin or eyes using vast quantities of clean tepid water,
- Never wash hands, face or arms using water in buckets that workers use to clean tools,
- Provide a safe hygiene facility were an injured worker can wash their face, arms, and hands at the end of the workday or before eating, drinking, or using the restroom to avoid inhaling or ingesting toxic chemicals. An additional area should be dedicated to changing clothes and cleaning boots.
Finally, the employer should provide adequate training to every concrete worker and finisher who handles, uses or is exposed to wet and dry cement. This training should focus on educating the worker on how to control the materials and avoid potential hazards.
Were You Injured in a Concrete Accident?
Under Illinois tort law, injured concrete workers and finishers have a legal opportunity to file a claim to obtain worker’s compensation benefits to recover some of their monetary damages. However, in many incidences, the injured worker faces an uphill battle in convincing Worker’s Comp. employees that your injuries are real and that your illness is the result of being injured on the job.
If you been injured on the job or developed an illness because of your occupation, hiring an attorney can ensure you receive all rightful benefits through Worker’s Compensation and other additional parties. The Chicago work accident attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers (888-424-5757) have successfully obtained millions in compensation for our clients.
Contact A Concrete Workers Compensation & Injury Law Firm
No upfront retainers or fees are required because we accept every nursing home abuse claim for compensation through contingency fee arrangements. This arrangement postpones all legal fees until after our attorneys have successfully resolved your case through a negotiated out of court settlement or a jury trial award. We guarantee if our law firm si unsuccessful at winning, you do not pay us anything!