Chemicals are used in nearly every industry in the United States, and when handled appropriately, workers are safe. But spills, leaks, and explosions can result in exposure which could cause a serious chemical burn.
What Chemicals Can Cause A Chemical Burn?
The severity of a chemical burn is determined by the type of chemical, the strength or concentration of the chemical, how long the skin was exposed, and the size of the area affected. Burns can range from first-degree burns, which are similar to a sunburn with redness and swelling, to third-degree burns, which destroy the entire layer of skin. In some cases, chemicals can cause fourth-degree burns, which damage not only the skin but also the underlying muscle and bone.
Most Americans are surprised to learn that commonly used products can cause a chemical burn. Exposure to the following commonly causes chemical burns at work:
When a worker is employed in an industry where stronger chemicals are used, such as metalworking, the strength of the substances being used is much more likely to cause a serious burn if exposure occurs.
Protection From Chemical Burns At Work
There are four key steps workers can take to protect themselves from chemical burns:
- Know what hazardous materials they are working with
- Follow safety protocols when handling those materials
- Wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Be aware of the signs and symptoms of chemical exposure
Workers who are aware of the hazardous materials they are working with and take precautions to protect themselves are much less likely to experience a chemical burn. PPE, such as gloves, aprons, and eye protection, can help shield workers from exposure in the event of a spill or other accident. And knowing the signs and symptoms of chemical exposure can help workers get prompt medical treatment if they are exposed.
Chemical Burns Must Be Treated Immediately
When a worker in any industry is exposed to a hazardous chemical, there are steps that they should immediately take to prevent the damage from spreading. This includes:
- Removing all jewelry.
- Removing any clothing that the chemical touched.
- Speaking with a supervisor or employer about the right way to remove the chemical from the skin. Remember, some chemicals will do more damage if exposed to water and should be removed from the body with other substances.
- Seek medical care immediately.
Signs and Symptoms of Workplace Chemical Burns
Signs that a worker may have a chemical burn include:
- Skin irritation and redness
- Gray or blacken skin
- Burning sensation
If chemical exposure involves the eyes or the chemical is inhaled, a worker may also experience:
- Difficulty breathing
- Loss of vision
- Burning in the throat and lungs
Workers who experience any of these symptoms after a chemical exposure should seek medical attention immediately. Chemical burns can be extremely painful and dangerous, so it is important to get prompt treatment. If possible, workers should try to identify the type of chemical they were exposed to and let their healthcare provider know. This information can help them determine the best course of treatment.
Moreover, chemical burns can be particularly dangerous because it’s not always obvious that deep tissue has been damaged, even if the burn is in just a small area. This is why it’s so important to seek medical care immediately if it is suspected that a worker has sustained a chemical burn, especially if discomfort is felt in the nose, mouth, throat, or eyes.
How Do Doctors Treat Chemical Burns?
The treatments for a chemical burn depend on both the location and the severity of the burn. While some burns are easily treated with topical medications and heal quickly, others can result in months spent in intensive care in a burn unit. A chemical burn can also cause severe enough damage that a patient requires the amputation of a limb. It’s not uncommon for a patient to be permanently disfigured at the burn location.
In addition to physical damage, the accident that caused the chemical burn can cause psychological damage, and patients may suffer from flashbacks, PTSD, anxiety, and depression.
The medical care required to treat these burns can be exceedingly expensive even with health insurance, putting a serious financial strain on an injured employee.
Employers Should Provide Extensive Training To Employees Working With Chemicals
Whenever an employee is going to be working with chemicals, their employer should provide them with careful training to lower the chance that exposure will occur. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), information about each chemical in the workplace should be readily available and understandable to workers.
If needed, safety gear such as glasses, goggles, gloves, and respiratory devices need to be provided to employees who will come into contact with hazardous chemicals. This safety gear should be checked regularly for defects or wear so that it can be replaced when needed.
Chemical storage containers should always be clearly marked with the name of the chemical and the correct storage information. For example, many chemicals should not be stored near any sort of heating element, or the result could be an explosion. Noting the correct temperatures at which a chemical should be stored is part of keeping employees informed and safe.
Worker’s Compensation For A Chemical Burn At Work
Workers’ compensation is a state-mandated program that provides benefits and/or compensation to employees who are injured on the job. Those who have sustained a chemical burn have the right to seek such compensation through workers’ comp.
In order to receive workers’ compensation, an employee who suffers a chemical burn must first notify their employer of the injury. The employer will then file a claim with their workers’ compensation insurance carrier. Once the claim is accepted, the employee will start to receive benefits that can help cover medical expenses and lost wages.
It’s important to note that in most cases, an employee cannot sue their employer for a workplace injury if they are covered by workers’ compensation. This is why it’s so important for employers to have adequate workers’ compensation insurance in place.
If you suffered any type of chemical burn at work, contact our workers’ comp lawyers to learn more about the process of filing a claim or to begin the appeals process if your claim has been denied.