Safety & Health Tips

Health Tips from IMI's "Trowel Trades Safety Manual"



Excessive dust, splashing liquids, harmful rays, and flying chips and particles may require you to wear safety glasses, goggles or a face shield. You only have one pair of eyes, they cannot be fixed, and construction work has many eye hazards. Therefore, it is very important to wear eye protection.



Exposure to high levels of noise also is a hazard. Noise can cause nervousness, anxiety, or even permanent hearing loss. Most health and safety standards permit workers to be exposed to a noise level of approximately 90 decibels (medium volume mode) for eight hours a day. A decibel is the standard unit used to measure degrees or levels of noise, just as inch and meter are used to measure length.

If the level of noise or length of time is increased above the recommended limits, the worker must wear ear plugs or ear muffs. The following data suggests how long a person can be exposed to noise before damage may occur.

Duration Per Day Sound Level in Decibels
8 hours 90
6 hours 92
4 hours 95
3 hours 97
2 hours 100
1 1/2 hours 102
1 hour 105
1/2 hour 110
1/4 or less 115
Less than 1 second -
impulsive or impact noise

Construction equipment makes a great deal of noise. For example, an air drill generates 100-114 decibels while a circular saw generates 100-116 decibels. Masonry saws, drills, Jack hammers and mixers all generate significant amounts of noise. Wet cut saws generate 112-114 decibels and quick cut saws generate 110-116 decibels.

Wear ear protection when you are working in or with equipment that produces loud or sustained noise. Choose ear plugs if levels do not exceed 95 decibels; choose ear muffs if noise exceeds 95 decibels.



The clothing you wear to work is your most important safety equipment. Dressing right for the job gives you all-around protection against the ordinary hazards of construction. The right clothing, boots and hard hat can reduce and/or prevent many minor injuries such as cuts and bruises that are painful and decrease productivity. Further, the hard hat can save your life by protecting you from falling objects.








Perhaps one of the most sensitive and yet overlooked areas of trowel trades is skin protection, those exposed surfaces of the body that are subjected to cement dust, sand, wind, cold and hot temperatures. How can you prevent injury and avoid discomfort or even permanent injury as a result of abuse of the skin?

Many trowel trades craftworkers, have more or less resigned themselves to the fact that their hands will be stiff and leathery as a result of exposure to the materials they use. You can protect yourself.



Skin rash, or dermatitis is the most commonly reported occupational disease, it comes in many forms, can be caused by many things, can persist for years and can be very difficult to treat. Dermatitis even can be disfiguring, painful, and disabling.

Usually, a skin rash caused by exposure to chemicals will appear on exposed parts of the body- the hands, arms, face and neck.

Some skin rashes are caused by the poisonous effects of a chemical that has been inhaled or ingested. These rashes can appear anywhere on the body, not just on exposed skin.

Chemical irritation is caused by the action of a substance directly on the skin. The skin may dry out causing cracked, stiff, or bleeding skin or a rash may develop with blisters, blemishes, swelling or redness. The irritation can be treated by stopping the exposure to the chemical and by using a lotion both to protect the skin from further damage and to moisten it. Gasoline, cements, and degreasing solvents can cause chemical irritation.

Chemical sensitization is caused by an allergic reaction the body can develop to many chemicals. This allergy may exist already or may develop following a few days, weeks or even years of exposure. Once a person becomes sensitized, even very small amounts of chemicals can bring out an allergic reaction -- usually a blistering, swelling, itching, reddening or acne-like condition. Cement and epoxy resins can contain substances that cause chemical sensitization.

Mechanical and physical irritation can result in burns, blisters or rashes. Materials like fiberglass, hemp, or other fibrous matter can cause mechanical irritation that can become painful and infected. Heat can cause "prickly heat", where the sweat glands clog up and the skin becomes waterlogged. Sunlight or ultraviolet light can cause burns.

Chloracne is a particularly severe form of dermatitis. It is caused by the toxic action of some very poisonous chemicals as opposed to irritation or sensitization, and is very slow to clear. It is painful and often quite disfiguring.

Folliculitis and acne also can be caused by exposure to chemicals at work. Folliculitis is the clogging of pores around hairs on the head, face, arms, thighs and hands. Industrial acne often occur on any part of the body. Asphalt, tars, pitch or creosote can cause these conditions.



Dermatitis can be prevented. If a chemical is causing severe problems, a safer chemical often can be found.

Gloves and arm coverings should be provided to help prevent skin problems. They should be carefully selected to make sure they can protect against the chemical being used. No one plastic or rubber glove can protect against all chemicals. Aprons, face shields, and shoe coverings should be used if splashing of the chemical is likely to occur.

Work clothes should be cleaned regularly when chemicals damaging to the skin are used. Clothing contaminated with chemicals damaging to the skin should be placed in closed containers for storage until it can be discarded or until the chemicals can be removed from the clothing. If the clothing is to be cleaned to remove the chemicals, the person performing the operation should be informed of the chemicals' hazardous properties.

If a spill occurs, work clothes should be changed immediately. An emergency shower should be in the immediate vicinity to wash off toxic chemicals.

Creams to clean grease and oils from the hands and arms should be available. DO NOT USE LIQUID SOLVENTS -- they can cause a skin rash and can be absorbed into the body, causing systemic poisoning.



One way to help control your exposure to hazardous and toxic substances is to read and pay attention to labels on material containers (bags, tubes, and so forth). Container labels give the name of the chemical in the container, the name/address of the manufacturer and a hazard warning statement and/or graphic. If you read and obey warnings, labels can help protect you.

Different labeling systems are used by different organizations. Regardless of the type of label, they must follow some rules.



The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) administers a standard called the Hazard Communication Standard (29 CFR 1910.1200). Its purpose is to reduce employee injury and illness caused by exposure to chemicals by providing information about the risk and safe handling procedures to employees. The information is provided on Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). In Canada, the Canada-wide Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) gives workers the right to have information about the materials with which they work.

There is no set format for MSDS, however, they must describe the health and safety hazards of a substance, and must provide directions for its proper handling and use. They must be written in English and must be maintained so that an employee can see them for any hazardous substance on the job.

You must learn to read an MSDS. The information can save your life.

Several terms may help you read an MSDS:



Trowel trades craftworkers are exposed to many hazardous substances that are ingredients of masonry building products and procedures. They also can be exposed to substances used by other trades.

Lime is one of these materials. This safety brief is not intended to replace specific material safety data sheets (MSDS) on the use of lime. It is intended to reinforce your knowledge of how to deal with it.

Material Specification
Also known as calcium oxide; burnt lime; Quicklime; hydrated lime.

White or yellowish grainy powder.

Health Hazard Information
Very irritating to the skin, eyes, nose and throat. Can cause burns to any part of the body it contacts. If lime dust gets in the eyes, can cause permanent damage. Symptoms of overexposure include tearing, coughing and skin irritation. Pneumonia and bronchitis have been associated with exposure to high levels of lime dust.

Most Likely Exposure
Used as a bonding agent for bricks, mortar, plaster and stucco.

OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL)
The OSHA PEL for lime is 5 milligrams of lime per cubic meter of air averaged over 8 hours. ACGIH recommends 2 milligrams of lime per cubic meter.

Protect Yourself

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