Written By: Dr. Jassin Jouria
An 18-year-old male is brought to the Emergency Room after accidentally getting burned by hot oil while working at a fast-food restaurant. He was working the French fry station when another worker accidentally slipped on a recently mopped floor falling over and bumping into the patient. The patients’ hands fell into the hot oil causing severe burns to both hands. The patient, who was in severe pain, was taken immediately to the ER, where the physician assessed the severity of the injuries. The patient had partial thickness 2nd degree burns to both hands up to the wrists. Due to the extent and location of the burns, the wounds were debrided, and the patient was immediately transferred to the Burn Center for definitive management.
A burn injury is a type of injury that causes havoc to the skin by an outer force. These include heat, fire, chemicals, radiation, and more. There are about four types of burn injuries an employee may suffer in the workplace, which will be discussed here.
Burn Injuries at Work- Some Statistics
The statistics related to workplace burns are alarming. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration USA published some data related to workplace burns. The data suggests that more than 5,000 burns happen at the workplace every year. Workplace burns are the most common causes of burns presenting to Accidents and Emergencies. These account for up to 45% of total burn cases
At-Risk Occupations for Burn Injuries
Any person working in a workplace can suffer from a workplace burn injury, but some occupations have higher chances of suffering from burn injuries.
Some occupations that have a chance of having burn hazards include:
- Construction workers
- Janitorial Workers
- Healthcare Workers
- Food Prep Workers
The Risk of Burn Injuries at Work
The risk of fire in the workplace ranges from open flames to fire outbreaks. According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, most time-burn injuries result from electrical currents.
In the workplace, heat generated by the flow of electric current can cause electrical burns. Electric burns are one of the most severe injuries an employee can receive because they cause tissue damage. Also, high temperatures caused by explosions or electric arcs near the body can result in flash burns.
What Does the Law Say About Burn Injuries in the Workplace?
According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employers should be able to train their employees about fire hazards in the workplace and what to do in a fire emergency. Each company should have a plan on how to deal with fire emergencies. All the personnel should get training on how to take action in case of a fire.
Types of Burn Injuries in the Workplace
Explosions and structural fires are common incidents that happen at most workplaces. But those incidents are not the only causes of burn injuries in the workplace. The typical workplace has a dozen other hazards that can scorch employees.
Workplace burn injuries can be classified into four different categories:
- Electrical Burns: An electrical burn is a skin burn caused by electricity when it comes into contact with your skin. When electricity comes into contact with your skin, it travels through your body. This can severely damage your organs and tissue. The damage can be mild or severe. In some cases, it can even cause death.
Electrical burns are usually harder to treat. Following organs might get affected by electrical burns:
- Kidneys: An electrical burn can affect the kidneys. This can make them stop working- a condition called rhabdomyolysis.
- Heart: An electrical burn can cause abnormal heart rhythms that can make it stop beating- known as cardiac arrest.
- Muscles: Electrical current can cause damage to your muscles, especially if exposed for long durations.
- Nervous System: This can include nerve damage.
- Thermal Burn: This type of injury occurs when the body comes into contact with fire or hot objects. This can include hot water, steam, flames, hot metal piping, or conduits. Thermal burns usually occur in industrial plants and foodservice venues.
Here are some things to do when one is affected by the thermal burn.
One of the first actions to take is to stop the burning process by removing the source of the fire. The clothes should be removed immediately, as should all jewelry. However, try not to remove burnt clothing stuck to the skin. This can worsen skin damage. Cooling the burn can be done by pouring running water on the skin. Try to do this only within 30 minutes after the burn.
- Chemical and Caustic Burns: When acids and alkalis burn, they can cause similar damage when exposed to fire. This type of burn can damage the skin and tissues. With caustic substances, the damage may continue to worsen until the chemical is removed from the body.
Here are some things to do when one is affected by chemical or caustic burns.
The person affected by chemical burns should be given first aid immediately if possible. This includes removing the chemical and rinsing the skin with water. Clothing and jewelry that have been contaminated should be removed. If possible, wrap the burned area with a clean cloth or sterile dressing. One is also advised to take a pain reliever and go to the hospital immediately.
- Radiological Burns: Radiological burns are usually caused by microwaves, x-rays, radiant light energy, and ionizing nuclear radiation.
Here are some things to do when one is affected by a radiological burn.
When one is affected by a radiological burn, the burn should be covered by a dry and clean dressing immediately to prevent infection. Also, the individual needs to be moved immediately to a hospital where they can receive professional attention from a doctor before deciding on the next steps to take.
If you experience a workplace burn, you should always seek medical attention. You should also report the incident to your employer and occupational health. The employer should take measures to avoid similar incidents happening in the future.
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