We all face the possibility of burns to our bodies in everyday life, whether at home or at work. Burns can range from minor to life-threatening. Since the risk of burns involved with hot work is high, I provide an explanation of burn hazards, different degrees of burns, and safe work practices to prevent and respond to burns.
Although burns can occur at work for a variety of reasons, there are some common hazards to consider. Burn hazards include hot metal, flammables, and exposed electrical circuits and wiring. Work tasks that increase the risk of getting burned include:
- Using flammable and combustible gases, liquids, or vapors
- Performing activities that could create static electricity
- Using tools and electrical equipment
- Doing hot work and electrical work
Degrees of Burns
Degrees of burns include first, second, and third. First-degree burns are considered minor and involve the top layer of skin, and can cause redness, pain, and mild swelling. Second-degree burns involve the first two layers of skin and cause deep reddening of the skin, pain, and blisters, a glossy appearance from leaking fluid, and possible loss of skin. Third-degree burns are the most serious type of burn. They involve all layers of the skin and can cause permanent tissue damage.
Signs of third-degree burns include:
- Loss of skin layers
- Lack of pain caused by skin damage
- Dry and leathery skin
- Charred skin
- Patches of white, brown, or black skin
Second and third-degree burns are considered major and can lead to death.
Safe Work Practices
To reduce the chances of being burned:
- Wear fire-resistant clothing (FRC) when required
- Wear leather gloves to handle hot materials
- Keep clothing and tools free of flammable materials
- Wear cotton rather than nylon or polyester materials
- Be aware of any welding or cutting operations that could pose a fire hazard
Work cautiously to prevent burns:
- Wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and follow safe work practices
- Give first aid to burned employees only by trained personnel
- Call for immediate medical attention for serious burns
When responding to a burn, it is important to be knowledgeable about what to do. Major burns require medical care to prevent scarring, disability, and deformity. Get medical attention as soon as possible, and do not attempt to treat serious burns unless you are a trained health professional.
To give first aid for a minor burn with unbroken skin:
- Remove the injured person from the source of the burn
- Loosen the clothing around the burn
- Cool the burn immediately with clean, cool water for at least 5 minutes
- Apply a clean, dry, sterile dressing