Fire or very high temperatures are the most common causes of burn injuries but they are by no means the only causes. Burn injuries encompass more than just those injuries sustained from direct fire or very high temperatures. In medical and legal terms, a burn injury is any type of skin injury that is caused by some type of external force, which could be fire, chemicals and radiation, among others.
Despite several laws mandating that employers put proper precautions in place to provide their employees with a safe and healthy working environment, workers continue to suffer burn injuries in the workplace.
Burn injuries can be excruciatingly painful. Depending on the severity of the burn, the worker may suffer extensive skin damage and internal injuries. In a worst-case scenario, they even lose their life due to extensive burn injuries.
Common Causes Of Burn Injuries In The Workplace
Common causes of burn injuries in the workplace include but are not limited to:
Thermal burns are caused by coming into direct contact with the heat source. You could sustain a thermal burn if boiling liquids, steam, or fire touches your skin directly.
Employees who work in restaurants, smelting industries or manufacturing sectors where steam or fire are used as part of the process are more prone to thermal burn injuries.
Some workplaces use open fires as part of their process. These fires can result in heavy smoke, which if inhaled can block the airways and cause extensive lung damage. Smoke inhalation is a type of burn injury, even if there is no direct contact with or exposure to the fire.
Electrical burns in the workplace usually occur when a person accidentally comes in direct contact with an exposed wire or mishandles heavy-powered machinery. Serious electrical burns can cause permanent tissue damage and can be instantly fatal.
Several industries require their workers to handle dangerous chemicals routinely, either during some process or for transportation purposes. These chemicals are highly corrosive in nature and can instantly cause chemical burns when they come in contact with the skin, eyes or internal organs.
Acids, thinning agents, solvents, oxidisers, bases and alkylating agents are some of the chemicals that cause chemical burns.
Gas is so commonly used in a wide range of manufacturing plants that it is treated almost casually and its risks are overlooked. The reality is, all it takes is a small leak in the pipeline to cause a dangerous gas explosion. The risk of explosions is also high in factories where fuel tanks are used for welding, cooling or any other industrial process.
There are strict laws mandating that hotels must have adequate fire safety measures in addition to conducting fire safety checks and drills on a regular basis. Despite this, there are hundreds of hotel fires reported every year. Hotel employees are just as much at risk as guests in case of any hotel fire.
Classifications Of Burn Injuries
Burn injuries may be superficial or severe. Based on the degree of a burn, they may be categorised as any one of the following:
First Degree Burns
In first degree burns, only the outlying layer of skin gets burned, resulting in pain, discomfort and redness. First degree burns are generally not fatal and do not require specialist treatment. Using over-the-counter medications such as soothing antiseptic ointments, bandages and topical painkillers are sufficient to treat the burns.
Second Degree Burns
In second degree burns the burns go beyond the outlying layer of skin and extend to the underlying skin. As a result, the burns victim tends to experience severe pain, redness, blisters and stiffening of the muscles and tendons. Second degree burns are more serious and take longer to heal than first degree burns.
Third Degree Burns
These burns go deeper down, all the way to the dermis. All the layers of the skin get burned and the burn extends all the way to the fatty tissue layer beneath the skin where the nerves are. These deep burns destroy the nerves in the burned area and leaves behind permanent scars.
Third degree burns are extremely painful, and even after the pain subsides and the wound heals, the skin gets a white, waxy and leathery appearance. In the event of such a burn, the victim requires immediate medical attention to prevent them from going into shock and for managing the associated pain.
Fourth Degree Burns
Fourth Degree Burns are the most serious type of all. In this type of burn, the injury extends all the way to the underlying muscle and bone. This type of burn often results in irreversible damage to the nerves, muscles, tendons and ligaments. Amputation may sometimes be necessary if the wound becomes infected. Severe infection can lead to death.
Fourth degree burns require specialised treatment, with the injured person being kept in a sterile hospital room until the wound heals completely in order to prevent secondary infection, which could be fatal. Even after the wound has healed, the injured person usually requires extensive rehabilitation and physiotherapy just to be able to perform ordinary, everyday activities.
Knowing Your Legal Rights
Several Acts have been passed over the years to protect workers from burn injuries. All of these clearly state that it is the employer’s responsibility to make sure that proper measures are put in place to minimise the risks of burns in the workplace. If any worker suffers burn injuries in the workplace because of inadequate safety measures, then the employer is liable to compensate them for their pain, suffering and financial losses.
Burn injuries often require extensive medical treatment, which can be hugely expensive. Moreover, they can prevent you from going back to work, causing you further financial loss. Above all, they can seriously impact your quality of life. While receiving compensation cannot make up for all of this, it can soften the blow to you and your family and can reduce some of the mental stress associated with the injury.
If you’ve experienced a burn injury at work and the injury was caused because of lack of adequate precautionary measures, you might want to read our guide to claiming compensation for a burn injury.