Construction workers handle toxic substances on a daily basis, usually without apparent impact or injury. It only takes one accident or a break in standard safety procedures, though, to realize how destructive some chemical products can be on the body. A chemical burn is damage to the skin, airway passage linings or other bodily tissue that occurs after accidental or continual exposure to hazardous chemicals. They usually occur on exposed areas of the body, such as the face, eyes, hands, arms and legs.

Chemical burns are a serious construction site concern. Many materials commonly used to pave roads and bridges, run construction equipment and paint or coat surfaces have been found to irritate or burn the skin and eyes. If the chemicals are absorbed into the body, this may cause internal tissue damage or sickness. Construction workers should be aware of these substances and know how to treat chemical burns efficiently on-site if they do occur.

Common Causes of Chemical Burns at Construction Sites

Substances that have ingredients with high acid or base values are usually the causes of chemical burns. While concrete is one of the staples of the construction world, it is also among the most potentially harmful. Cement becomes caustic and can burn skin or other living tissue when it is mixed with water. Besides the danger of wet cement, acids and bases, materials that contain metals or hydrocarbons can also cause chemical burns, sickness or injury to construction workers.

Deep tissue or skin damage from contact with bases may be more severe than from contact with acids. Beware of common chemicals used in construction that may cause burns, like:

  • Highly acidic industrial cleaners and solvents, like those used to remove rust.
  • Lime, which is an extremely basic alkali, may be combined with soil, asphalt, cement or plaster.
  • Products made with lye, which also has lime in it, that dissolve both living tissues and surfaces.
  • Paint thinners or removers, like turpentine or acetone, with which workers who paint may come in contact.
  • Epoxy resins, which are often used in concrete and other adhesives, bridge and surface coatings, laminates, paints and primers, tools, flooring and electrical insulation.
  • Metalworking fluids that may contain petroleum or mineral oils known to cause skin cancer.
  • Gasoline and hat tar, which are hydrocarbons, also irritate upon contact and can seep into the body.

These and any other substances should always be handled with care to avoid serious bodily injury from chemical burns.

Signs & Symptoms of Chemical Burns

Chemical burns happen more often than people think. According to the National Fire Protection Association, there were 17,700 chemical burns reported in 2008, which accounted for eight percent of emergency room visits for burns. Close to half of these were injuries to the eyes. Some chemical burns show on the skin immediately, but for others symptoms may not appear for hours or even days after contact.

Once contact with harmful chemicals occurs, typical symptoms are red, itchy, or scaly skin where the chemicals landed. Painful blisters, ulcers, and rashes may form. The skin could also change color at the site of contact, or become numb. If chemicals enter the eyes, they might feel like they are burning and your vision may change or blur. When chemicals are inhaled, causing internal burns, coughing or breathing difficulties might develop. In more severe cases, there may be further symptoms, including signs of poisoning. Multiple first aid organizations state that all chemical burns should be considered medical emergencies, so visit a nearby emergency room as a precaution.

Chemical Burn Prevention

Training on how to work with caustic materials, such as wet cement or lime products, can help to prevent chemical burn injuries on construction sites. Ensure that your contractor and coworkers adhere to safety practices and standards for working with harmful chemicals, but correct them if they do not. If you set a good example for others, you will minimize the potential for chemical burn occurrences at your work site.

Additionally, wearing protective gloves, safety glasses or other body coverings will protect your skin from direct contact with harmful substances in most cases. The safety gear must be appropriate to the chemicals being handled, though, so be sure to verify their compatibility. Keeping work clothing and protective wear clean is also a must, as chemicals can stick to the inside and burn your skin without your knowledge.

You Deserve Compensation if You Suffered Chemical Burns

Chemical burns can have lasting effects. There can be scarring at the burn site, or you can develop a condition called allergic dermatitis where your skin is acutely sensitive to contact with irritating substances. Extreme burns may result in skin cancer or damage to internal organs. No one deserves to live with these afflictions, so seeking immediate medical attention is imperative. It is also important to know your legal rights when you experience chemical burn injuries.

If you or someone you know has experienced a chemical burn that permanently damaged your skin or eyes or has left you with other lasting effects, consult an experienced chemical burn and construction accident lawyer in your area. If the chemical burn happened during work at a construction site, a construction accident injury attorney may be able to assess your injuries and help you recover workers’ compensation or other funds to pay for your past and future medical costs, loss of wages and pain and suffering.