September 18, 2014
Causes and Treatment of Burn Injuries
By Jonathan Damashek
When we hear about someone being badly burned, we may think first of a house fire or another kind of structure fire, or a car fire. But there are many ways to suffer a serious burn injury without a fire or open flame.
Many burn injuries, particularly in the workplace, are caused by chemicals, electricity, radiation and other sources of heat or corrosion.
Any serious burn is a significant wound. The vast majority of burn victims survive – 96.6 percent according to the American Burn Association National Burn Repository. But for burn injury victims, this often involves a long, painful recovery and specialized care. More than 60 percent of people hospitalized for burn injuries are transferred to one of 127 burn centers across our country, including 11 in New York.
Burn injuries are categorized according to degree of severity:
First-degree burn – Injury to the outer layer of skin that causes pain, redness and swelling, but no blistering.
Second-degree burn – Injury to the outer and underlying skin layers that results in significant pain, as well as redness, swelling and blistering.
Third-degree burn. – This injury extends below the skin into fat and deeper tissue. It may cause white or blackened, charred skin. Due to nerve damage, the victim may experience numbness instead of pain.
Fourth-degree burn – Tissue damage extends to muscle, tendons and bone, and the victim’s skin is likely to the blackened or charred. Because of extensive nerve damage, the victim may not suffer any pain.
Occupational Accidents and Burn Injuries
Chemical and electrical burns are more likely to occur in workplace accidents than in our everyday lives, though household electrical burns are more common among children than adults.
Electrical burns are caused by the heat that is generated by the flow of electric current through the body. This can cause serious damage to internal organs, including stopping the heart. The involuntary muscle contractions caused by electric shock can damage muscles, tendons and ligaments, and may even fracture bones.
Acids, like hydrofluoric acid (hydrogen fluoride) or hydrogen chloride, or alkaline substances, such as sodium hydroxide, which is used in refrigeration, can cause a chemical burn.
They can burn the skin or the eyes and permanently damage vision.
Some burns that occur in the workplace are caused by radiation from X-rays or radiation therapy to treat cancer. Ultraviolet radiation (UV) is generated by the electric arc in the welding process. Skin exposure to UV can result in severe burns, in many cases without prior warning, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). UV radiation can also damage the lens of the eye.
Exposure to infrared radiation (IR) produced by the electric arc and other flame-cutting equipment may heat the skin surface and the tissues immediately below the surface, and can progress to thermal burns in some situations.
OSHA also warns about burn injuries from explosions and fire in the workplace, including explosions caused by combustible dust. The vast majority of natural and synthetic organic materials, as well as some metals, can form combustible dust, OSHA says.
This means the potential for a combustible dust explosion exists in just about any type of industry:
- Food (e.g., candy, starch, flour, feed)
- Metals (e.g., aluminum, chromium, iron, magnesium, and zinc)
- Fossil fuel power generation.
Recovery from Serious Burns
Treatment for a burn begins with work to relieve pain. Depending on the severity of the burn, the treatment may involve cool water or a wet cloth combined with over-the-counter pain relievers, to application of a medicated burn cream to morphine for third- and fourth-degree burns — particularly during dressing changes, the Mayo Clinic advises.
Severe burns that damage the skin, muscle and other soft tissue will require reconstructive surgery followed by plastic surgery to address scarring.
A patient with newly grafted skin will need physical therapy to stretch the skin and regain the use of injured muscles and joints. In addition to physical therapy, a burn patient may need psychological therapy to cope with the trauma of a severe injury or to learn to live with a disability. A disabled burn victim may also seek occupational and vocational therapy to assess their ability to return to work for a living or learn new job skills.
If your or your loved one’s burn injury was caused by another person’s or organization’s negligence, they may be required to compensate you or your family member. But obtaining a full and fair settlement requires work by forensic experts who can uncover and explain the cause of a fire or explosion, and medical experts who can explain the full extent of the burn victim’s injury.
Our burn injury lawyers can help you assess a burn injury and the financial assistance the victim is likely to need during recovery. We can investigate the cause of a fire, explosion or other accident, and determine who should be held liable. When we find that negligence has caused an injury, we fight to obtain full compensation for the injured.