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Skin that is exposed to raw materials like cement over long periods of time is at risk of serious harm. Mark Mastrangelo, Marketing Manager at Polyco, advises on how to protect workers from getting their hands dirty.

Let me introduce you to James, a 39-year-old labourer working for a UK house builder. The primary duty he performs is mixing and delivering mortar, plaster and concrete. James uses both mechanical and hand-held devices and often has to manually handle the raw materials, such as cement.

Like many other construction workers, James isn’t necessarily aware of the hazards he is exposed to when handling raw substances. Wet cement, in particular, has a number of hazards due to its caustic, abrasive and drying properties. Continuous contact between skin and wet concrete allows it to penetrate and burn the skin.

When wet concrete is trapped against the skin, for instance by falling inside a worker’s boots or glove, the result may be first, second or third degree burns or skin ulcers. These injuries can take several months to heal and may involve hospitalisation and skin grafts.

One of the most common work-related skin diseases found when handling a raw material like wet cement is dermatitis, with symptoms including red, sore, itchy and blistered skin. If the dermatitis gets worse then the skin can crack and bleed and potentially spread all over the body. Dermatitis can be a painful condition and can cause a lot of discomfort. Too often the hazards of working with wet cement are accepted as part of the job, when they could be prevented.

In 2012, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK reported over 1,100 new cases of work-related dermatitis, with skin diseases accounting for


around 3% of total sickness absence days due to occupational illnesses.

To help reduce the number of workers developing a work-related skin disease, one precaution that can be taken is to supply appropriate hand protection to all workers. However, with so many gloves on the market it can be difficult to decide which hand protection is best suited.

The nature of the hazard and the operation involved will of course have an effect on the selection of glove. Workers must wear gloves that are designed for the hazards and tasks identified, as a glove designed for one particular function may not protect against another. There is no ‘one-size- fits-all’ when it comes to gloves.

To help sort through the sea of choice and ensure you make the right decision, Polyco offers a best practice initiative in the form of their Hand Protection Assessment Survey (HPAS).

The HPAS service from Polyco is available free of charge to companies based in the UK with 50+ employees and helps to identify the exact specification of the most suitable hand protection for particular working environments and tasks. The assessment is carried out by knowledgeable industry experts who offer the following:

• A documented process that will support risk assessment procedures

• A review of existing hand protection and an audit of requirements

• Identification of areas where improvements can be made financially

Handling cement with no

hand protection can cause skin

diseases such as dermatitis

• Advice on adhering to best practice procedures

• Identification of the right gloves for each task to be carried out efficiently and safely

• A safeguard against injury claims and time lost due to workplace injury

• A comprehensive report, highlighting the most appropriate specifications of hand and arm protection

If workers like James can be made aware of the hazards associated with handling cement, they are more likely to take care. By identifying and selecting the most appropriate hand protection for his work, there is a greater probability that James will wear gloves that will reduce his exposure to injury and illness. Awareness and action go hand in hand to creating a safer and healthier workplace.

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