Watch out for burns during building work!

It has long been the case that building materials like limestone and mortar, cement and concrete are not only handled by professionals. DIYers are also trying their hand at mortar, screed and concrete work. Attempting to save money in this way can prove costly: building work carries a major health risk. This was demonstrated by the evaluation of 592 accident reports involving building materials notified over the last three years to the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, mainly from employers' liability insurance associations. More than 80% of these cases involve minor, more than 10% medium and serious damage. The majority had to do with burns to the skin and eyes. Frequently, limestone was the cause. BfR, therefore, advises DIYers to protect themselves from health damage in the same way as the professionals.

Since 1990 the Centre for the Recording and Assessment of Intoxications in BfR has recorded medical notifications of intoxications (pursuant to § 16e Chemicals Act, which are notified by the regional poison control centres, hospitals or GPs from the areas of safety at work and environmental medicine. BfR evaluates these notifications and then makes recommendations which can minimise the health risk.

The analysis of the notifications about health damage which occurred in conjunction with building materials shows that they can be attributed to a few causes: overhead work and building dust drift were the main causes of the eye damage. In 85 cases liquid limestone from walls and sheds led to burns; 60 other eye injuries happened during the preparing and mixing of concrete and mortar and whilst unloading and transferring powder-form building materials. During demolition and caulking, the eyes are particularly at risk from flying foreign bodies. Working with concrete, screed or mortar coupled with wet clothing and shoes (e.g. kneeling down in the wet building material) were, by contrast, the main causes for what were, in some cases, serious skin burns. DIYers also suffered burns when pressurised building materials squirted out of pump tubing.

In order to avoid health damage of this kind, DIYers should comply with the same strict protective measures which apply to professional workplaces:

  • When preparing or mixing building materials, during demolition or caulking and, above all, during overhead work, wear protective goggles as well as face masks during dusty work.

  • Choose work gloves carefully. Leather gloves become wet and can encourage burns. When working in a wet environment, cotton gloves with a plastic covering (nitrile) are better. Wear gauntlet gloves during overhead work because they can considerably reduce the amount of humidity which permeates the working clothes.

  • Change out of wet clothing, shoes and gloves immediately.

  • Protect uncovered areas of skin (arms, legs, face): there are various effective skin protection products which should be used in accordance with a skin protection plan (skin protection, cleansing and care). Cleanse the skin thoroughly after the work and apply a care product.

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