Workplace Burns – Why Workers are particularly Susceptible to these Injuries
Burn injuries are extremely common in the workplace, where an estimated 20% of all major injuries are caused by burns, scalds and electric shocks. NHS estimates show that roughly a quarter of people attending hospital with serious burn injuries have sustained them at work. Electricity, hot liquids and chemicals cause the majority of burn injuries among workers, while steam, UV lights, friction, radiation and cold can also cause serious burns. Burn injuries are classified as first, second or third degree, in escalating order of severity, representing the damage done to the body, both externally and internally. Burns can prove fatal, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recording around 25 deaths in the workplace each year from electric shocks and burns.
Certain industries and workplaces have particularly high incidence rates of burn injuries among workers, including construction, factories, laboratories and restaurants. Those working on building projects are at risk from various factors, including hot cement, buried electrical cables, defective electric wiring, equipment and machinery. In metal-working factories, heat and steam are in regular use, while others produce or utilise chemical-based products, containing acids, alkalis and other caustic agents. In the often hectic environment of restaurants, chefs, kitchen staff and waiters handle boiling liquids, hot oil and scalding food routinely. Even minor accidents in industries such as these can result in workers sustaining severe burn injuries, and employers have a legal responsibility to ensure that all reasonable measures are taken to minimise the risk of such accidents occurring.
Burn injuries can cause both cosmetic and functional damage. A person may be left permanently scarred, or may require ongoing skin grafts and plastic surgery to regain a normal appearance. Facial scarring from burn injuries is common, and the highest compensation awards are paid out to young women, who often face a lifetime of perceived deformity and emotional trauma. High voltage electric shocks can cause similar external injuries, as well as potentially fatal internal damage to the body. Certain chemicals, such as hydrochloric acid will burn the skin on contact, while others will only begin to burn after a period of a few hours. Chemicals may be contained in liquids, gases and powders, and a person may be burned from inhalation as well as direct skin contact.
Employers owe a duty of care to their workers, and must provide them with a safe working premises and a safe system of work. Where necessary, personal protective equipment must be provided, including heavy duty gloves, overalls, and protective goggles. The employer must also ensure that all workers are properly trained, both for their own safety, and that of their co-workers. All equipment and machinery must be well-maintained, and free from defects, especially electrical sockets and appliances. Compensation for burn injuries at work can be obtained using the services of a solicitor. Most disputes are settled before they reach court, as employers hold mandatory insurance to cover them in the event of an injured worker making a successful negligence claim against them.
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