Chemical Burns

Posted by Melissa Hall in #YHSafetyTips, Feb 06, 2019

Chemical burns occur when your skin or eyes come into contact with strong acids, alkaloids, or other corrosive materials that eat away or burn your skin and deeper tissue. Chemical burns in the workplace are most likely to occur after exposure to industrial cleaners including rust removers or drain cleaners, exposure to chemicals in laboratories, and exposure in manufacturing workplaces. A variety of other substances including paint thinners and gasoline may cause chemical burns.

More than 13 million workers in the United States have jobs that result in exposure to chemicals, including workers in the agriculture, manufacturing, transportation/utilities, construction, and sales fields.

Unlike thermal burns, you may not realize that a chemical has caused a burn until symptoms develop, sometimes hours after exposure. In cases where you are aware of a chemical burn, you should immediately take the following steps:

  • Remove the chemical from your skin. If the chemical is dry, you should put on gloves and brush off as much of the chemical as possible with a towel or similar item.
  • Remove contaminated clothing or jewelry to help prevent further injury.
  • Rinse the burn area with a steady stream of cool water for at least 10 minutes, making sure to protect your eyes during the cleaning process.
  • If the chemical has gotten into your eye, flush the eye with clean water from a low-pressure source like an eye wash station, making sure to keep the eye open when flushing.
  • After the area is clean, apply a loose gauze or bandage.
  • If you have not had a tetanus shot within the past 10 years, check with your health care provider to see if you need to receive a tetanus shot or booster.

Those suffering from a severe chemical burn may go into shock, which is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical care. Signs of shock include fainting, very shallow breathing, and a pale complexion.

If you notice any of the following symptoms, you should seek immediate medical care:

  • The burn has penetrated the first layer of skin
  • The burn area Is greater than 3 inches in diameter
  • The burn encircles a limb, or involved the eyes, hands, feet, face, groin or buttocks, or a major joint

When seeking emergency care, bring the name of the chemical or the container with you, as this will help the medical staff determine the best course of action.

Proper chemical storage, handling, and hazard communication training can help to control accidental contact with chemicals and reduce the occurrence of chemical burns.

Store and handle all chemicals according to directions and read labels and the safety data sheets for any chemicals you will be using. Be sure to wear all appropriate PPE and know the location of the nearest first aid kit, eye wash station, and fire equipment before you begin working with the chemical. You should also be aware of the precautions that need be taken to avoid a burn.

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