New UK restrictions on the amount of chromium VI in cement come into force yesterday, 17 January 2005. The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (Amendment) Regulations 2004 (COSHH 2004) will prohibit the supply or use of cement which has a chromium VI concentration of more than 2 parts per million. As well as cement itself, the restriction will apply to a wide range of products that contain cement such as mortars, grouts, tile adhesives etc.
This legislation is being introduced to help prevent allergic contact dermatitis, a potentially serious condition that can lead to permanent disability, which can occur when wet cement containing chromium VI comes into contact with the skin. While construction workers such as bricklayers, tile layers, and workers laying concrete floors are likely to be at most risk, this condition can occur in members of the public who use cement or products containing cement without taking proper precautions.
From 17 January 2005 manufacturers will have to add a reducing agent to their products to bring chromium concentrations down to permitted levels (2 parts per million). In addition, they must provide information on safe shelf life, as the reducing agent is only effective for a limited period. Although virtually all uses of cement are covered by this ban, cement and cement products produced and used in controlled and closed systems are exempt from this restriction.
Manufacturers and suppliers will be taking urgent steps to comply with the new law as soon as practicable, in order to eliminate the risks from allergic contact dermatitis. However, it may take time for all "undosed" products to work their way through the supply chain. In any event, even cement that is properly dosed with reducing agent will continue to have the potential to cause ill health due to its irritant effects and highly alkaline nature. Users are therefore being reminded how important it is to continue to avoid all skin contact with cement and cement products, using the correct PPE at all times.
HSE has worked closely with industry, including the British Cement Association (BCA), the British Adhesives and Sealants Association (BASA) and other company representatives on the new Regulations.
Recently, HSE and BCA set up a Task Force representing a broad range of stakeholders to develop agreed approaches to the new chromium VI restrictions, and also on the other hazards of cement. Bill Macdonald, HSE’s spokesman on skin disease reduction said:
"By the simple step of reducing the levels of chromium VI in cement and cement products, these Regulations should make allergic contact dermatitis, caused by skin contact with wet cement, a thing of the past. But the fact remains that wet cement can still cause serious burns if it comes into contact with the skin. So, whilst this change is good news, it doesn’t mean that cement is now "safe". Our message to users is: treat this material with respect if you value your skin".