According to the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), each year more than 5,000 workers are hospitalized after getting burned at work, and approximately 200 of those burn injuries are fatal. Burns can be among the most serious of all workplace injuries.
Common Workplace Burn Injuries
A chemical burn occurs when a synthetic, corrosive substance comes in contact with soft tissue. Soft tissues include skin, eyes, ears, and internal organs. The main types of corrosive compounds are acids, bases, oxidizers, solvents, thinning agents, and alkylating agents.
An electrical burn is a result of contact with either alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC). Electrical burns occur from touching a functioning electrical socket or wire, falling into electrified water, or being struck by lightning.
A thermal burn is caused from contact with a flame, steam, or boiling water (or other boiling liquid). Thermal burns can also occur from touching hot, solid objects such as pipes, tools, engines, and motors. Extended exposure to the sun can cause thermal radiation burns, more commonly known as sunburn.
Depending on the type and severity, burns at work can result in extensive skin damage, internal injuries, and complications including shock, infection, and cardiac arrest. Burn injuries can have long-term effects requiring ongoing medical treatment, rehabilitation, and mental health counseling. Workers with a serious burn can miss substantial time from work, and even be partially or totally disabled.
Chemical, electrical, and thermal burns are rated according to their severity. They’re classified as first, second, third, and fourth degree.
- A first degree burn affects only the outer layer of skin, called the epidermis. This is the least serious burn, and generally results in redness, pain, and general discomfort. Bandages, antiseptic ointments, and topical analgesics are usually enough to treat a first degree burn.
- A second degree burn is similar but more serious than a first degree burn. It affects both the epidermis and the second layer of skin (dermis), and causes redness, pain, and general discomfort. This type of burn often results in blisters and possibly some scarring.
- A third degree burn extends into the fatty layer beneath the dermis. Third degree burns can penetrate deep enough to destroy nerves. They often result in waxy, white, or leathery skin. These burns can be extremely painful. In addition to medical care, they normally require pain management with narcotic pain medication.
- A fourth degree burn is the most serious of all burn injuries. This type of burn penetrates deeply beneath the skin, causing nerve damage and charred muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones. Fourth degree burns are often fatal.
Workers’ Compensation for Burns at Work
Employees who are burned at work are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Workers’ comp includes payment of medical and therapy bills, out-of-pocket expenses (medications, bandages, etc.), and about two-thirds of lost wages.
The workers’ compensation process begins when you file a “first report of injury” (DWC-1) form with your employer. You enter the date, time, and cause of your injury on the form. If your burns are serious enough to require emergency room care, you can wait until you’re stabilized before completing the report.
When your employer gives you a list of company-approved physicians, you choose one as your primary treating physician. Depending on the severity of your burns, your doctor may refer you to a dermatologist, burn center, pain management facility, or plastic surgeon (if necessary).
Your primary physician monitors your condition and determines when you’ve reached a level of MMI (maximum medical improvement). This means further treatment won’t improve your health status. Upon reaching a level of MMI, your physician decides if you can return to work. He’ll complete a return to work form with his determination.
- If you are completely healed, your doctor may clear you to return to your former job.
- If you need more recovery time, but you can eventually resume your prior job duties, your doctor may diagnose you with a temporary partial disability.
- If your burn injuries are more serious, your doctor may diagnose you with a permanent partial disability. You may be able to work again, but not at your former job. Your employer may give you a new job to accommodate your disability, or if one isn’t available, you may have to look for employment elsewhere.
- If your doctor diagnoses you with a permanent total disability, you won’t be able to return to work at all, either at your previous job or at any other type of employment.
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Visitor Questions on Burns at Work
Severe burn injury from electrocution… My son is currently in Burn ICU in Colorado following electrocution while working as a lineman. The company he works for is located in and insured for Worker’s Comp in Texas. My son actually lives in PA. I realize his medical bills will be covered by Worker’s Comp, however we are wondering about the expense... Read More >>
Second degree burn on my hand falling onto a powerwasher at work… I work for a Company that has annual inspections of it’s residential homes. I work with people that have challenges. One week of the year we have to go and clean these residential homes as well as independently living persons’ apartments, as well to pass the strict home inspections. I was asked to power-wash the... Read More >>
Chemical Burn at Work… I came home today (1/17/12) to find my girlfriend with second degree burns all down her right leg and a little on her arm. I work around chemicals and I was surprised at how bad it was when she told me it was from sanitizer solution. Then I was enraged to find out that she... Read More >>
Burned While Working in a Restaurant… I work for a national restaurant chain. I had to heat something in the microwave and someone already had grits in there. They had filled the bowl too high and when I pulled them out I got burned on my arm and fingers. There was no cover on the grits bowl to prevent this from... Read More >>
Burned by Coffee Machine at Work… Three weeks ago a waitress was making coffee and got burned when coffee grinds fell on her hand and elbow. She had 3rd degree burns. Today, my daughter pulled out the coffee urn and it caught on the basket, spilling the grinds on her. She now has 2nd degree burns. The manager did not know... Read More >>
Reporting a workers compensation injury after 30 days? This is about a Haitian friend that works at a fast food chicken restaurant as a cook. This happened around March or April 2011. She was trying to get a tray of hot beans from the rack but the tray got stuck, so she tried to pull a little harder and the tray fell on... Read More >>
How Long Should I Wait to Call the Insurance Company? My husband was burned by grease while working in the kitchen of a restaurant. He alerted managers and all employees that he would be working on a fryer. That consisted of him being on the floor under the unit. It was pulled out about 3 feet from the wall. When an employee took a basket... Read More >>
Burned by Hot Water at a Restaurant… I was at a work fundraiser event. The waitress asked me if I wanted hot tea. I said yes. The cup was on the edge of the table. I moved it more into the center of the table, as I was concerned about a possible accident. The waitress told me to please leave it at... Read More >>