Blog Series – The Real Cost of Onsite Injuries: Burns

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Onsite injuries are the bane of the construction and trade fields. From general laborers to specialized trades including electricians, roofers, HVAC installers and more, we all face different injuries that we may have to deal with on a daily basis.

One of the costliest injuries to deal with on a jobsite is burns. They are incredibly painful, and can leave long-lasting imprints on workers, as well as responders and safety personnel. Today, we are looking into burn injuries, the types of burns out there, the causes, the effects, and what you can do to prevent them.

Types of Burns

Workplace burns usually come from four different areas – thermal, chemical, electrical, and sun exposure.

Thermal injuries are the most common type of burn injury, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s data from 2016, the most recent fully-detailed calendar year. With nearly 19,000 cases of burns involving lost time throughout the year, thermal burns accounted for 72% of them. These are burns that are caused by steam, scalding water, fire, flammable materials, hot pipes, or heat produced by equipment and machinery.

Chemical burns were the next-highest in terms of time-lost incidents. There are tons of dangerous chemicals around jobsites, including cleaning supplies, paint thinner, solvents, glues, and various other substances. Chemicals that contain certain acids, alkaloids, and caustic chemicals cause burns when they come into contact with exposed skin. Chemical burns can be particularly insidious in that, unlike thermal and electric burns, they are not always immediately obvious, with reaction to substance possibly being delayed by minutes, or even hours.

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While not as common as thermal and chemical burns, electrical burns are some of the most serious burn injuries seen on construction sites. Coming from the flow of electric current through the body or by high temperatures produced near the body by an electric arc or explosion, these can involve severe, deep tissue damage.

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Burns from sun exposure can be difficult to pinpoint in regards to statistics, depending on how they are reported. Some get reported as first-degree thermal burns, but they may also get reported as effect of heat and light, or other/unspecified burns. They are exactly as they sound, too – burns from being in the sun, with bare skin open to ultraviolet radiation.

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Common Causes of Burns

There are plenty of ways to get burned on a construction site or when performing trade work. The most common causes of burn injuries result from:

  • Open fires
  • Sparks and slag thrown off in welding where there is not enough shielding
  • Explosions
  • Toxic chemical exposure
  • Defective fuel lines and tanks that can fuel fires
  • Exposed, live electrical wires
  • Lightning

These are just some of the prime examples, but there are plenty of sources on your jobsite.

How Severe Can They Be?

Divided into four levels, burns can range from the slightly irritating to disfiguring and deadly. They are separated into degrees, although there is room for interpretation.

  • First Degree Burns: These cause minimal skin damage and are often considered superficial, generally only affecting the top layer of skin. Think of a mild to medium sunburn, where the affected area will be red, painful, and dry, but not blistering. Long-term damage is very rare.
  • Second Degree Burns: The burns extend deeper than the top layer of skin, leading to blistering on top of increased redness and soreness. The skin may look shiny as well, and it will hurt to the touch. If it is superficial, scarring is rare, but deep partial thickness burns may permanently discolor or scar the skin.
  • Third Degree Burns: Destroying two full layers of skin, these may appear black, brown, white, or even yellow as they destroy both the dermis and epidermis. They can go deep enough to destroy tissue underneath as well. These will leave scarring and permanent discoloration. Skin grafts may be used to treat these.
  • Fourth Degree Burns: Not just all skin layers are affected, but there is the likelihood that muscle, tendons, and even bones can be damaged. They are life-threatening, and even if survivable, often lead to permanent severe damage or amputation.

Another part of severity to keep in mind is how much of the surface area of the victim’s body is affected. While second degree burns are nothing to laugh at, extensive first-degree burns over an entire arm may cause more pain and have a higher cost than a second-degree burn that only affects a small area of an arm.

The Costs of Burn Injuries

There are numerous levels of cost when it comes to burn injuries.

The first is the lost time. The amount of time changes depending on the types and severity of the burns – chemical and electrical burns generally lead to more lost time than thermal burns, while the higher the degree of the burn is, the more time is lost. While burns in general have a median time lost of 6 days, electrical burns are particularly nasty, with 37% of electrical burns requiring over a month of missed work. Third- and fourth-degree chemical burns also have a major impact, with a full 100% requiring at least a month off, with the median being 58 days lost.

Monetary costs can be severe for the victim, as well as involved parties. According to the American Burn Association, a survivor with 40-60 percent body burn see an average cost of stay in the hospital of $780,000, with severe injuries raising those costs even higher. While insurance will cover some of this, they might cap their reimbursement per case, leaving the company to pay the remainder. On top of that, the insurance premium will go up. Depending on the outcome of treatment, legal costs can be massive as well, with average settlements in burn injury cases being well over $800,000, as noted in a study by the Vanderbilt University Law School. All that is heaped on top of the OSHA fines that stem from these incidents.

One of the most difficult costs of burn injuries is their long-term impact on the burn victim. Cuts and fractures may have the ability to heal, and may even disappear completely after rehabilitation. Some burns can be severe enough that there is no possibility of skin grafts or cosmetic surgery. There is also the psychological and emotional impact of burn injuries, traumatic events that can scar the victim for life.

Preventing Burns

The good news is, there’s plenty you can do to help prevent burns to your employees or on your jobsite.

The primary way to prevent burns is to properly educate your team on the potential dangers, and how to respond should something happen. Education is always the first, and generally the most effective, way to prevent any injury.

Help to prevent chemical burns by ensuring that all chemicals are stored in the correct containers, and sealed properly. Have dedicated storage cabinets for chemicals and flammable materials, and keep all MSDS and right-to-know paperwork somewhere that is easily accessible for all workers.

Provide proper personal protective equipment (PPE) as well as task-specific protection such as welding coats, protective aprons, and fire-resistant clothing. Educate your team on the need to wear them, how to take care of them, and make sure they are easy to get and stored in obvious places. The easier they are for the worker to find and put on, the more likely they are to make sure to dress right.

Keep the proper safety equipment on site. Fire extinguishers should be provided that can counteract all types of fires you may face – make sure they are rated correctly. Keep burn kits on site – they go above and beyond what is offered in a general first aid kit.

Here at PowerPak, we know that the safety of you, your employees, and anyone who comes onto your worksite is of the utmost importance. Reach out to one of our team and find out how we can help you to prevent burn injuries and other onsite injuries, and help you and your team members avoid what could be a life-changing incident.

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