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Preventing and Treating Burn Injuries in the Workplace

If you work in a manufacturing or food service, you are among the segment of employees with the highest risk of on-the-job burn injury.  Other dangerous fields include agriculture, some construction jobs, electrical company/store staff, and anyone whose job involves cars (either fixing them or driving them).  The majority of burns caused at work, either in the above positions or in others, are preventable.  Employees who suffer from them may need heavy medical care and extensive recovery time.  They are also more likely to lose or leave their job because of the injury.

The ideal situation for everyone involves a safe workplace where employees do not have to worry about any injury.  However, many companies or workers do not take the preventative measures that could help reduce burn risk.  If the worst should happen while you’re on the job, do you know what to do?

The Burn Hazards at Your Job

Your risk of sustaining a burn injury is a condition of the specific job you do each day—and so is the type of injury you may get.  For instance, more than half of the burn injuries sustained by food prep employees are scalds.  Those in manufacturing are more likely to face thermal and radiation burns than scalds; construction workers are similarly at risk for radiation burns, but also experience a high percentage of electrical burns.  Though each type of burn has similarly damaging effects, their causes may be unrelated.  Burns are classified as:

  • Thermal burns, which are caused by hot objects.  These can be further divided into contact burns, scald burns, and flame burns.
  • Electrical burns, which are caused by a current entering the body.
  • Chemical burns, which are caused by harsh and/or toxic chemicals that cause serious damage at the cellular level.
  • Radiation burns, which are caused by concentrated, high-energy rays.  Technically a sunburn is a radiation burn, as is the damage caused by exposure to radioactive particles.  However, most workplace burns of this type are caused by the bright light from welding torches.

The key to avoiding burn injuries is knowing what can cause them in the first place.  When you’re aware of how and why you might get burned, you may be able to spot hazards before an accident happens.

Frequency and Type of Workplace Burns

A multi-year analysis of non-fatal workplace burns found that, thankfully, these injuries are happening less and less.  Of the types of burns one may experience, thermal burns are most common, accounting for 30% of workplace injuries. The second-most-frequent type is chemical burns, then radiation burns, and, finally, electrical burns.

There are also trends in the body part that is injured by workplace burns:

  • 37% affect the hand and fingers
  • 27% affect the lower arm and wrist
  • 12% affect the face

All of these can be devastating.  Because burns, especially those near joints, can decrease a victim’s range of motion, damage to the fingers and wrist may introduce a significant and lasting disability.  For jobs that are heavily physical or rely on strong motor control, the victim may never regain the full range of motion needed to return to work.  Facial burns may not affect vital joints, but in some ways, they can be even worse: When skin is completely destroyed, even skin graft surgeries cannot fix all the damage.  Permanent disfiguration is likely to result from serious burns, and when someone’s face is affected, their self-esteem and self-image are likely to diminish. 

Burn Prevention in the Workplace

Often, workplace burns are caused by employer negligence.  Awareness, training, and job site organization can make a huge difference.  For example, chemicals should be clearly labeled and stored safely.  First aid and eye wash stations should be located near the place dangerous chemicals are used.  To protect against both chemical and thermal burns, personal protective equipment (PPE) should be provided.  Thermal burns can also be reduced by keeping workers away from hot machinery or liquids and practicing fire safety.  Anything that can burn someone should have a warning posted on it or nearby.

Electrical and radiation burns can both be prevented through employee training and enforcement of PPE.  Because welding is responsible for nearly all workplace radiation burns, supplying everyone who may be at risk with eye protection in the form of a helmet or pair of goggles can be an effective preventative measure.  Clear and accurate warnings can help keep other employees out of dangerous areas.  The same goes for electrical hazards, which should have clear warnings both for those on the ground and those using heavy equipment.  

How Can I Treat a Burn in the Workplace?

Serious burns will always require medical attention, but you can provide first aid to coworkers before first responders arrive.

Treating Thermal Burns

In thermal burn cases, the victim should be moved to a safe area.  Use the “stop, drop, and roll” technique as necessary to extinguish flames.  Cool water can help a first-degree burn; otherwise, the burned part(s) should be elevated, and the victim given plenty of water to drink.  For second- and third-degree burns, blisters should be wrapped with dry and non-adhesive bandages. 

Treating Chemical Burns

Chemicals can quickly sink into fabric, so the burn victim should remove any pieces of clothing that have been affected.  Any loose powder should be brushed off the burn area, and then the wound should be flushed with water for 20 or more minutes.  If the eye has been exposed, the victim should keep it open while flushing with a gentle flow of cool water.

Treating Electrical Burns

The first step in helping an electrical burn victim is to shut off the power.  Otherwise, would-be rescuers might also be harmed.  After the current has stopped flowing, the victim should have their vitals checked.  Administer treatment for shock while waiting for EMTs to arrive.

Treating Radiation Burns

Even when welding burns are not severe, symptoms may last for the rest of the day.  If the victim is experiencing blurred vision or worsening pain and/or glare, they should receive emergency care.  A cold pack (applied for no more than 20 minutes at a time) and over-the-counter pain medication can help reduce pain.

Burned at Work?  We Can Help.

No matter what you do, you have the right to a safe workplace.  If you’ve sustained a burn injury while on the job, you can file for workers’ compensation.  The more serious the burn, the more difficult and expensive treatment will be.  Workers’ compensation can not only help you pay your medical bills, but also help defray the losses of missed work

When workers’ compensation insurers deny or try to underpay your claim, you need a strong advocate on your side.  Our attorneys can help you evaluate the worth of your claim, negotiate on your behalf, and litigate your case if necessary. 

Contact our workers’ compensation attorneys at (888) 499-6206 or send us a message now.  We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.