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Workplace Burns – Recognition and Prevention

- February 2, 2018 by Leslie Stoll, CSP, ARM (View all posts by Leslie)

Have you done a safety evaluation for burn sources at your facility? Burns can occur from touching a hot tool, equipment parts, electricity, chemical, and fire or an open flame. You may have looked for burn hazards during your personal protective equipment assessment (PPE), but PPE should be the last resort for preventing burns – Elimination, substitution, isolation, and administration controls should be considered first.

To conduct a burn hazard assessment, you need to look at the physical building and operations and the tasks that employees perform. Below are suggestions to conduct an assessment for the three main types of burns.

Heat/Fire/Open Flame

To find sources of heat burns, a physical walk through the facility is required. Are people working near heat producing equipment without proper protection? Can a barrier be installed to prevent contact? Can insulation be added to reduce the amount of heat? Do people need to be working near the heat source or can a workstation be rearranged? Those are some key questions to ask before resorting to PPE. But if PPE is your only option, keep in mind that protective gloves, arm shields, leg spats, and boots come in all varieties and you must understand the level of heat exposure to make the proper PPE decision. I always recommend that my clients take advantage of their PPE supplier’s salesperson. They have researched their product and understand the limitations and benefits.


Since every chemical is unique, you need to review all safety data sheets for the chemicals in your workplace. For chemicals with severe skin contact hazards, the first step is to see if there is an alternative that is not as hazardous that can be substituted. If that’s not possible can you create a system that encloses the chemical so employees are not in contact with it such as a direct piping system from tank to point of application? Can you install a physical barrier or shield to prevent splashing or move the employees to a better location to work? If there are no other options but to use personal protective equipment, I suggest using your vendor’s expertise to make sure you are getting PPE that protects employees from your specific chemicals. You can also review my colleague’s blog, “How to Select Chemical Resistant Gloves.”


Electrical burns can happen when a person comes into contact with electricity or a conductive substance such as water that is electrified. This is not just an exposure for electricians. Office workers who use electrical corded equipment or extension cords can also receive burns if the cords are in poor condition. Having a preventative maintenance program and inspection process for electrical equipment is an easy way to reduce this risk. For more significant exposures such as working inside a live electrical panel, specific tools and PPE are required. How to determining what type of protection is needed is required knowledge for an electrical worker. The NFPA70E Standard offers a guide to selecting the right PPE for working with energized electrical. You should refer to article 130 in the standard for more details. As a general rule, if your employees who perform electrical work don’t understand what is explained in the NFPA 70E standard, then they are not qualified to be performing energized electrical work. Employees who are not qualified to perform electrical work should receive a basic training on hazards of electricity and what to do if they find an unsafe electrical concern.

In my next blog, I will discuss proper first aid for burns.



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