How to Avoid Burns within the Workplace

In many industries, slips, trips, falls, and lifting injuries make up the vast majority of injuries that workers are prone to experience. In others, however, occupational risks make other incidents more likely. In the case of restaurant kitchens, fast food establishments, chemical and production facilities, and any case in which the heating, cooking, welding, and/or soldering of materials is common, one of the biggest risks becomes burns. While we’ve all accidentally touched a hot pot on the stove as a child and quickly learned to never do it again, workplace burns can be much more severe, depending on the circumstances, and safety managers should be well-prepared to take care of them (and, more importantly, prevent them). Let’s start out by taking a look at the types of burns (known as degrees) a worker might receive.

Degrees of Burns

First Degree: A first degree burn affects only the top layer of the skin (the epidermis), and will only result in redness and slight pain/irritation. First degree burns are usually brought on by extremely brief contact with a hot object; they generally require little to know medical treatment – if the coverage of the burn is large enough, this is not always the case, so a professional should be consulted in the case of all burns.

Second Degree: A Second degree begins to affect the underlying layers of the skin (the dermis), and can result in blistering and swelling. Because of the possibility of rupturing skin and open injuries, second degree burns can put an employee at risk of infection and should be treated by a medical professional.

Third Degree: Third degree burns will destroy the nerve endings through all or most layers of the skin, and can even injure the underlying tissues, muscles, and bones. The skin layers are completely dead and scarring will occur. Third degree burns should be treated in a hospital immediately. Skin will turn black, purple, and/or yellow and become leathery. It is important to note that treatment should be sought despite any protests on the part of the worker that they are not in major pain – the dead nerve endings may have them feeling better off than they are.

Common Causes

The most common causes of burns in the workplace are splashing liquids. Boiling water and oils are the most dangerous, as they can remain on the skin after initial contact and continue to cause damage (many third degree burns come from scalding fluids). In many production sectors, the highest risk of burning comes from corrosive chemical compounds and pressurizers (from which steam can escape rapidly and burn an employee if they are too close or directly above the container). Especially in the case of chemical burns, a third degree burn can occur almost instantaneously.

Prevention Techniques

As with many safety topics, techniques for avoiding burns can be sorted under either “elimination” or “prevention.” As you might be able to decipher, elimination cases are those in which you can change your work environment to eliminate a risk altogether, where prevention takes necessary risks and makes them less, well, risky.

Let’s take a look ta a situation in which a worker might get burned on the job.

A worker carries a vat of chemical residue across the workfloor to pour it out in the proper waste recepticle. He walks over to the sink, but on his way slips on slick flooring and falls, splashing chemicals on his chest and face and receiving 2nd degree burns. Skins grafts, missed work hours, OSHA investigations, yikes.

Prevention: One way to help reduce the risk of this accident happening again is to place anti-slip floor tape where areas tend to get wet to improve traction so that workers are less likely to slip. Alternatively, the floor might require more regular washings and dryings to stop it from getting wet and slippery.

Elimination: Elimination measures could range wildly, but the basic goal would be to eliminate the need to carry chemicals manually in the first place. A manager might re-arrange the work floor (expensive) or install a small drainage sink next to the work area for workers to pour spent chemical waste down (less expensive). In any event, the dangerous activity is gone altogether.

In general, it is a good idea to install both preventative and elimination typed measures after an incident. In the example above, this would mean eliminating the risk of carrying chemical waste, but still installing traction mats to reduce the general risks of slips and falls when workers move about the space.

Labeling pipes, barrels, and other containers with potentially dangerous substances in them is a good preventative practice, and is required by OSHA guidelines in most instances already. Conversely, if a dangerous chemical can be stored in another area altogether so that it is not at risk of being spilled during routine operation, you can eliminate said risk altogether.

First Aid

In general, first aid for burns involves the use of running warm (not cold, as you may have been taught) water over a wound. According to a Fox News study

warm water can do a better job of limiting tissue damage and restoring blood flow to affected areas. After initial treatment, all burn victims should be examined by a doctor, or, in the case of severe burning, an emergency room physician. – Study says treat a burn with warm water, not cold

For chemical compounds, hazardous materials should already be labeled with GHS labels (which can be found here) to help communicate the hazardous chemicals. In some cases, commonly used chemicals can be neutralized by other compounds, this is more effective than water, which just seeks to remove the burning chemical through pressure and rinsing. Much like an allergic individual that keeps an EpiPen on their person at all times, safety managers should keep neutralizing solutions on hand for their commonly used chemicals.


You’ll likely find in your own safety improvements that, from time to time, elimination is simply not feasible. This can be due to monetary or technical restrictions, or because it would disable your business from working at full efficiency. In these cases, especially if they are documented, it is important that you still implement the best preventative measures you can and document that you did properly address the issue, rather than doing nothing at all.

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