Concrete is one of the most widely used materials in construction yet many contractors lack knowledge of the potential dangers posed by concrete and the equipment used to pour and finish it.

Thankfully, the deaths caused as a direct result of working with concrete are extremely rare. The injuries incurred from working with the material carelessly, however, are higher. And, like most workplace accidents, a significant proportion of these injuries were probably avoidable.

With that in mind, here are four essential concrete safety tips for anyone regularly working with concrete or related machinery.

Concrete burns; keep covered up and wear protective equipment

Concrete burns are one of the lesser understood risks of working with fresh concrete, principally because the thick, cold consistency of concrete isn’t something you’d expect to have a burning property.

However, fresh concrete has a high alkaline content, which makes it extremely dangerous to human skin. Even worse, alkaline attacks nerve endings meaning that those exposed to concrete might not feel the effects until well after initial contact. The severity of concrete burns can range from minor irritation to dermatitis and burns.

To avoid the risk of concrete burns, ensure that all skin that could potentially be exposed to concrete mix is fully covered; this includes forearms, legs and a face mask and goggles if possible. It goes without saying that you should invest in some hard-wearing protective gloves when handling concrete too.

Protect yourself from concrete dust

Concrete dust from pre-mix concrete is one of the more dangerous elements of working with concrete, as prolonged exposure and inhalation can lead to the development of asthma and other occupation-related respiratory illnesses. In the short term, it can also lead to severe irritation of the eyes.

Fortunately, protecting yourself from the effects of concrete dust is relatively simple. Always wear protective goggles and a face mask when pouring your concrete into a mixer. If any other unprotected workers are in your direct proximity at the time, tell to stand clear until the dust has cleared.

Be prepared for heavy lifting

Depending on the kind of concrete job you’re carrying out, workers might be required to lift heavy concrete blocks. Set concrete is extremely heavy, so ensure that you have the correct amount of workers lifting a block and that each worker follows the accepted ‘safe’ way to lift: a straight back, bent knees and lifting with the legs.

For heavier concrete blocks, you might require the use of machinery such as a crane. Before allowing a crane to lift a block, make sure that the block is properly secured and any risk of the block falling loose is minimal. Clear any workers out of the path of the block’s journey to avoid any fatalities should the block fall.

Stay safe with construction equipment

The finishing of concrete requires a lot of equipment, including some seriously heavy-duty machines such as ride-on power trowels. Safety checks should be carried out on this machinery before use; is everything in working order? Are there any loose parts? Also make sure that you fully train (or are fully trained) in the same use of all equipment you use – if you feel unsure or suspect that a worker might not be in a position to safely operate equipment, get someone else to operate the equipment and organise further training.

When using any construction equipment, other workers should be positioned well clear of the operating area.

Concrete is an extremely useful material and one that is relatively easy to use – so long as you follow basic safety procedures.

Christopher Smith is writing on behalf of Multiquip UK, suppliers of construction equipment