Explaining workplace burn injuries

Burn injuries are worryingly common in the workplace. Last years work accident figures from the Health and Safety Executive found that the 1 in every four burn injuries needing hospital treatment was sustained in the workplace.

Burns are usually categorised as thermal, electrical or chemical, so whatever profession you work in, burns are likely to be a hazard. The seriousness posed by this hazard will of course vary depending on the work setting, from the relatively limited scalding that may occur in a commercial kitchen to the larger surface area chemical burns that may be inflicted in a chemical plant for example.

As we all know, even a minor burn can be extremely uncomfortable but given the range of hazards in the workplace, burns can be very extensive making burn injuries completely debilitating for many workers. Burns are most commonly caused by the following:

• Open flames

• Extremely hot equipment or surfaces (this hazard is often exacerbated by the absence of warning signage)

• Defective equipment, especially electrical, and possible lack of training in use of such equipment

• Hazardous substances/corrosive chemicals

• Explosions

Despite the many hazards found in the workplace, avoiding workplace burn injuries is fairly straightforward. Unfortunately, employers are often remiss in exacting appropriate health and safety standards and as a result their employees often suffer burn injuries. Examples of such employer negligence include:

• Failing to train staff adequately: in burn hazard awareness, the use of protective equipment and the handling of dangerous chemicals for example

• Failure to provide personal protective equipment: heat-resistant gloves or face shields for example may be needed to prevent burn injuries

• Failure to maintain a safe working environment: for example, having an untidy work area can create trip hazards which lead to burns, or failing to correctly store hazardous chemicals could lead to chemical burns

• Insufficient signage and guards around the workplace

The fact that so many of these burn injuries are avoidable should be of great concern to employers. Should your employer fail to take every reasonably practicable step to avoid you suffering burns or any other type of injury, they can be said to have breached their legal duty of care and as a result you may be entitled to claim compensation against them.

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