First Aid for Thermal, Chemical, and Electrical Burns in the Workplace

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Whether you work or employ personnel in a hazardous environment or not, it is essential to know how to administer first aid for burns in the workplace. Approximately 75 workers out of every 100,000 have suffered from a thermal burn at work, demonstrating the importance of first aid training in relation to burns.

Remember, burns can be caused by various sources, including chemicals and electrical contact. Designated employees need to be prepared and know the steps to take when a burn occurs to reduce pain, minimise damage, and prevent further complications, such as infection. 

With that in mind, let’s discuss the basics of first aid for burns in the workplace, including chemical and electrical burns. 

Responding to Burns in the Workplace

While minor burns or scalds may not require urgent medical attention, severe burns are a medical emergency that requires prompt attention from a healthcare professional. 

Burns can cause significant damage to the skin and underlying tissues, leading to pain, swelling, and fluid loss. In some cases, burns can also damage essential organs and systems, such as the respiratory and circulatory systems.

Thus, if you suspect someone at your workplace has suffered from a severe burn, your first port of call should be to ring 999 or 111 for help. However, knowing what to do in an emergency until help arrives can dramatically improve outcomes for burn victims. 

What’s the Difference Between Thermal, Chemical, and Electrical Burns?

Thermal, chemical, and electrical burns are different types of burns that result from different causes:

Thermal burns: Thermal burns occur when the skin comes into contact with a hot substance or object, such as boiling water or a hot appliance. They can also occur from exposure to flames or extreme heat.

Chemical burns: Chemical burns occur when the skin comes into contact with a chemical substance. This can happen from exposure to cleaning products, acids, or bases. Chemical burns can also occur from exposure to certain substances used in work or industrial environments.

Electrical burns: Electrical burns occur when an electrical current passes through the body. They can occur from exposure to electrical sources, such as power lines or electrical appliances.

Each type of burn requires different first aid treatments, and it is crucial to recognise the different types of burns to provide appropriate first aid. For example, cooling a thermal burn with water is an appropriate first aid treatment. 

In contrast, a chemical burn requires you to carefully remove the chemical from contact with the skin before flushing the affected area with running water to neutralise the chemical. 

First Aid for Thermal Burns

If you encounter a thermal burn in the workplace, some best practice first aid strategies include: 

  1. 1. Cool the burn: Cool the burn with tepid or lukewarm running water for 20 minutes or until the pain subsides. Do not use ice, as this can cause further damage to the skin.
  1. 2. Remove any clothing or jewellery: Remove any clothing or jewellery that may be near the burn, as these can constrict blood flow and cause further damage. Do NOT remove items attached or stuck to burnt skin. 
  1. 3. Cover the burn: If feasible, cover the burn with a clean, dry dressing, such as cling film. Do not use cotton wool, as this can stick to the wound.
  1. 4. Elevate the affected area: If the burn is on an arm or leg, elevate it to help reduce swelling.

Seek medical attention: If the burn is severe (covering a large area or affecting the face, hands, feet, or joints), or if you are in any doubt, call 999 immediately.

First Aid for Chemical Burns

For chemical burns, first aid treatment is slightly different: 

  1. 1. Remove contaminated clothing: Remove any clothing that may have come into contact with the chemical, being careful to avoid spreading the chemical to other parts of your body. It’s usually best to cut clothes rather than pull them away from the skin, as this increases the chance of spreading the chemical to other areas of the body.  
  1. 2. Rinse the burn: Rinse the affected area with plenty of water for at least 20 minutes or until medical help arrives. Do not use any creams, lotions, or ointments, as these can trap the chemical against the skin and cause further damage.
  1. 3. Remove any remaining chemical: If the chemical is still present on the skin, remove it by gently brushing it off (if dry) or further rinsing, being careful not to spread it to other parts of your body.
  1. 4. Seek medical attention: Seek medical attention immediately, even if the burn seems minor. This is particularly important if the chemical is a strong acid or base, as these types of chemicals can cause serious damage without necessarily being severe in appearance. 

First Aid for Electrical Burns

For electrical burns, first aid procedures are similar to that of a thermal burn:

  1. 1. Disconnect the source of electricity: If the person is still in contact with the electrical source, use a non-conductive object (such as a wooden broom) to push the person away from the source of electricity. Do not touch the person with your bare hands, as this could result in electrical shock.
  1. 2. Call for emergency medical services: Call for emergency medical services (999) immediately. Electrical burns can cause serious injury to the heart, lungs, and other internal organs, even if the person appears unharmed.
  1. 3. Remove any jewellery or clothing: Remove any jewellery or clothing that may be near the burn, as these can constrict blood flow and cause further damage. Once again, do NOT remove items stuck or attached to burnt skin. 
  1. 4. Cool the burn: Cool the burn with cool running water for at least 20 minutes or until the pain subsides. Do not use ice.
  1. 5. Elevate the affected area: If the burn is on an arm or leg, elevate it to help reduce swelling.

Learn Crucial Workplace First Aid (Including Treatment of Burns) with TL Training

As the North West’s leading first aid training provider, TL Training offers comprehensive workplace first aid courses designed to equip employees with the skills needed to deal with various workplace emergencies.

Our complete suite of first aid courses includes:

We can deliver first aid training on-site at your premises for groups of employees or individuals or at our training centre in Merseyside. 
To find out more about our range of first aid courses, or to make a booking, call us on 0151 343 0588 or email [email protected].

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