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Guide to Burns: Degrees, Treatment, and Prevention

by Frank MacDonald on July 6, 2017

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Burns are one of the most serious workplace injuries, and they’re prevalent across many industries and job types. While most of us were introduced to fire safety at a young age with the “stop, drop and roll” procedure taught in schools, many of us never imagined needing to use it.

However, OSHA reports that 5,000 workers are hospitalized as a result of getting burned at work each year. Of these 5,000 injuries, 200 are fatal.




Burn Classification:

Burns fall into four categories based on severity of injury, ranging from first degree to fourth degree.


First-Degree Burn (Affecting the Top Layer of Skin)

The mildest type of burn affecting only the first layer of skin. Although often referred to as a “superficial burn”, a first degree burn can still be very painful and require a trip to the doctor.


Second-Degree Burn (Affecting the Top 2 Layers of Skin)

A burn with damage extending beyond the top layer of skin, causing it to blister and become extremely red and sore. A doctor should assess for risk of infection and prescribe pain relief if over-the-counter pain relief is not sufficient.


Third-Degree Burn (Affecting Every Layer of Skin)

Type of burn that extends through every level of skin. Due to extensive nerve damage, there may not be any pain associated with third degree burns. However, these burns are highly severe. If your burn is bleeding, looks a little bit black, or your skin appears dry or leathery, you may have this type of burn. If you suspect you have a third degree burn, seek emergency medical care immediately.


Fourth-Degree Burn (Affecting Deep Tissues) 

The most serious type of burn. Fourth degree burns penetrate deeply beneath the skin, potentially causing nerve damage as well as injury to deeper tissues including muscles, tendons, and bones. These burns may appear white, brown, yellow, or blackened and like third degree burns, may not have any pain associated due to nerve damage. If you suspect you have a fourth degree burn, seek emergency medical care immediately.



How to Treat a Burn:

Regardless of the type of burn, the major goals regarding treatment are as follows:

  1. Prevent shock
  2. Relieve pain/discomfort
  3. Reduce the risk of infection

However, depending on the degree of burn, specific steps relating to each goal should be taken, which are outlined below.


How to Treat a First-Degree Burns:

First degree burns are usually treated with home care alone. Healing time can be reduced by treating burns quickly, so it is recommended to begin soaking your first degree wound in cold water as soon as possible. The burn should be soaked for at least 5 minutes, after which aloe vera can be applied to soothe the skin. For pain relief, acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be taken.

As the skin heals, you may notice it peeling, but otherwise full recovery should be seen in approximately three weeks. Visit your doctor if you notice any signs of infection or if pain worsens.


How to Treat a Second-Degree Burns:

Second degree burns require a few additional steps to be treated properly. These types of burns should be run under cold water for at least 15 minutes and must be kept clean to prevent infection. It is recommended that you visit your doctor so the wound can be assessed, antibiotics and/or pain medications can be prescribed, and a tetanus shot be administered if needed.

These burns should heal in 3 weeks without scarring, but you may notice pigment changes to the affected skin. Visit your doctor if you notice any signs of infection or if pain worsens after initial assessment.


How to Treat a Third or Fourth-Degree Burn:

Third and fourth degree burns carry a high risk of complications and will likely require surgery. If you believe you have sustained either type of burn, do not self-treat. Call 911 immediately. While waiting for emergency services to arrive, take the following actions:

  • Remove constrictive clothing or jewelry close to the burn site immediately, as burns swell quickly.
  • Loosely cover the burned area with any material available that won’t leave lint in the wound (but preferably a sterile, non-stick bandage).
  • Elevate burn area above heart level.
  • Seek help from those around you to check pulse and monitor until emergency help arrives.

Treatment once emergency services arrive is far from “one size fits all”. Due to the seriousness of third and fourth degree burns, you could suffer from long term effects requiring ongoing medical treatment, rehabilitation, and mental health counselling. Some victims suffer from blood loss, hypothermia, or bacterial infections such as tetanus. These types of burns can sometimes even be fatal.


Treating a Burn on the Hand

So what about burns to the hands? Well, unfortunately, they’re not the easiest to treat. Although the palm of your hand only comprises one percent of your body’s surface area, a burn to the hand can be a highly serious short or long-term disability.

The first step in managing a burn to the hand is elevation. Your hand must be kept elevated above heart level to prevent the formation of an edema.

Airway and breathing concerns will be addressed next as burns often result in shock, followed by evaluation of circulation. Some burns may lead to changes in or loss of pulse, necessitating techniques such as incisions in the arm to restore pulse.

Burns that result in blisters will be handled in the method favored by your doctor, as breaking blisters and leaving them intact are both viable options.

Daily care of burns on the hand is extensive. Burned hands should be cleansed twice daily with a mixture of water and antiseptics recommended by your doctor. A number of dressings are available for treating partial-thickness burns to the hand. On top of that, burnt hands must be positioned for proper wrist extension and joint form.

Because your hands allow you to perform many highly specialized functions, suffering from a burn on your hand may require adjustments to your daily life and work routines. Workers with serious burns can miss substantial time from work. To avoid this, the best fight against burns is prevention.


Protect Your Hands

As hand safety specialists, we care about your hands and protecting them from all of the hazards you may face at work. If you’re working with heat or fire in any capacity, heat-resistant hand protection is a must.

When high heat resistance is needed, our 7-gauge double-layer glove is the perfect option. Made using a blend of heat-resistant Kevlar® and flame-resistant Protex® yarns, this glove is built to offer fantastic heat protection. Unlike other gloves offering high heat protection, these gloves don’t comprise dexterity and grip. Protect your hands from burns by claiming your free sample below:



Want to learn more about heat levels and selecting the right hand protection? Be sure to check out our Guide to Understanding Thermal Heat by clicking here.

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