Burn Hazards and Injury Prevention Safety Toolbox Talk

August 19, 2021
By N. Nicholas, ASP

Burn injuries are common in the workplace. 

These injuries can not only result in significant time off from work for the person injured, but also increased medical costs and lower productivity due to “burnout” or loss of morale among co-workers.

According to the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 3 out of every 4 work related burn injuries are caused by hot liquids or steam from machinery and industrial processes in the workplace.

This includes oil extraction plants, chemical plants, welding shops and bakeries due to scalding burns from tea kettles, steam heaters and hot ovens.  

 Two out of three burn injury victims suffer their injuries at the hand of another person (not necessarily a co-worker) rather then some form of mechanical or manufacturing equipment.  

Types of Burns

Flash or Flame burns  – can occur when combustible material such as gasoline, alcohols, grease or oil ignite and flash over a short distance (usually less than 3 feet). The burn injury is caused by the flame that travels outward from the liquid fire source.

Burns Caused By Electrical Current: These types of burns are caused when electrical current runs through the body causing it to heat up above its normal temperature. 

Electrical currents can be direct currents (DC) or alternating currents (AC). AC currents cause more damage then DC current due to distortion of tissues especially in nerve cells.  Current passing through conductive liquids will produce steam which can also blister the skin.

Burns from an Electrical Shock can be caused by direct or indirect contact with conductive objects such as metal, water and earth which carry the current causing them to heat up. 

The most severe burns occur when the current path goes through vital organs such as the heart, brain, lungs or spinal cord  which causes these areas to swell like balloons. On rare occasions death can result from shock currents passing directly through the body’s nerve cells.

Burns Caused By Radiation: These types of burns are caused by intense radiant energy (sunlight) from a hot source that is reflected off a surface that is in close proximity to the person being burned. 

This type of burn may appear superficial but can also cause deep tissue damage and internal burns.  The severity of these types of burns depends upon the intensity (color or brightness) and duration (length of exposure).

Burn injuries can be minimized by using personal protective equipment such as arc flash suits, gloves, long sleeve shirts, pants, eye protection and face shields.

However despite these safety measures injuries are still common in many workplaces including bakeries, restaurants, wood working shops, chemical plants; anywhere flammable liquids are used.

Burn Prevention Tips in the Workplace

First and foremost, ensure you have received the proper safety training before working in environments and around substances and conditions that can cause burn accidents. If you have not been trained, notify your supervisor and ask for the proper training.

  • Be aware of the location and presence of fire extinguishers in the workplace and how to use them correctly.  
  • Always wear clothing which is flame resistant.
  • Never smoke near flammable liquids or vapors.
  • Avoid wearing loose fitting clothing that can catch on fire easily.  
  • Know where your electrical outlets are on all equipment including computers, printers and copiers to avoid accidental shock and electrocution.
  • Make sure workers under 18 years old receive proper safety training when working with sharp instruments including knives, scissors and other cutting tools
  • Wear the proper gloves that are designed to be used while working with hot surfaces, molten metal or chemicals to prevent burns from prolonged contact with skin.

Follow all safety guidelines for use of hot water temperatures at sinks to prevent scalding injuries

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