Concrete burns – a neglected building safety hazard


Just when you think that all construction health and safety accidents involve working at height, lifting, vehicle movements, unregistered gas fitters or asbestos, a case comes along that reminds you of the sheer variety of hazards that exist on a building site.

Concrete is near-ubiquitous in buildings, yet it is far from inert when wet. A strongly alkaline liquid, it is capable of causing burns or ulcers if it comes into contact with bare flesh. Worse yet, it is frequently added to with damp-proofing compounds that are dangerous chemicals in their own right.

The need for PPE

This explains the need for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including full clothing, boots, goggles and gloves when handling concrete. This unfortunate incident demonstrates what happens if PPE is not sufficient and when normal precautions are not taken in the use of the material.

Principal contractor Geoffrey Cinko from East Sheen, London SW14 had a contract to demolish 5 old garages in S W London and erect two semi-detached homes where they had been standing.

Wading in liquid concrete

A basement area had to be filled in and in October 2010, wet concrete was being poured into the hole. Mr Cinko was using two casual labourers to smooth it out evenly before it set hard. This required them to actually get into the liquid and wade around in it, with the concrete being nearly up to their knees, for a long period: it was three hours later that one worker reported really bad pain in his legs and got out of the ooze. He went to find washing facilities to relieve his pain but there was no water available on site.

He had to go back in, and the two carried on working like this for a further hour before the work was done.

The same evening they both attended hospital, suffering from second-degree chemical burns on their ankles and lower legs.

The builder was found to be negligent in the following ways –

  1. No guidance was given to the workers on how to seal safely with concrete
  2. No safe system of working was established
  3. No appropriate PPE (like over-knee wading boots) was provided
  4. Basic lack of welfare provision

One of the unnamed workers needed to have skin grafts on both his ankles due to this unfortunate incident.

The 2-day trial at Westminster Magistrates’ Court resulted in a fine for the contractor of £10,000 in addition to another £10,000 in costs. But part from the cost risk of getting it wrong, the key message to other builders is that they have a duty of care to all workers on site, whether directly employed or contracted: and basic construction health and safety measures must be observed at all times. If anyone is in doubt about their obligations or needs assistance with their risk assessments, method statements or CDM Coordinator roles, then they should seek professional and sympathetic assistance from McCormack Benson Health & Safety.