SHARP Investigates Hospitalized Occupational Burns

Work-related hospitalized burns are a significant public health concern, often resulting in severe long‑term physical, psychological, social and economic consequences. Gathering information on the kinds of burns and their risk factors is essential to develop strategies to identify, evaluate and promote effective interventions.

In 2000, the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention (SHARP) initiated a hospitalized burns surveillance system. Our goal is to reduce the occurrence of future burns by providing information about these serious injuries and by encouraging interventions to identify and fix workplace hazards.

Recent funding from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has allowed SHARP to develop a series of educational materials. Our burn narratives are real-life cases of hospitalized burns resulting from common job tasks. Our burn injury fact sheets describe a specific hazard and a strategy to reduce it.

This SHARP Focus Newsletter provides an update of Washington's Hospitalized Burns Surveillance and links to hospitalized burn narratives and fact sheets.

From September 2000 through December 2005, 350 workers were hospitalized due to work‑related burns. About 90% were male and the average age was 37 years. Most of the workers sustained thermal burn injuries. However, electrical and chemical burns each accounted for 10% of the total. Workers with electrical burns tended to have more severe injuries. Twenty‑two workers were fatally injured either as a direct result of their burns or in conjunction with another injury.

The overall annual incidence rate was 24.5 hospitalized work‑related burns per million workers. The rate was higher for male workers. The highest risk category was workers between the ages of 22 and 24 years.

Most workers filed L&I workers' compensation claims. The average cost per claim exceeded $50,000, with an average of 135 lost workdays.

SHARP calculated industry rates to prioritize industries by the frequency and risk of hospitalized work‑related burn injuries. We then reviewed high‑risk industries to identify common injury scenarios. Based on these results, future research and prevention activities should be aimed at the following:

  • Hot tar burns among roofers, including, but not limited to, the filling and transferring of buckets.
  • Thermal burns from arc flash explosions and electrical burns from direct contact with electrical current among electricians working on or near energized equipment.
  • Scald burns among cooks, other kitchen workers, and servers, particularly during the handling and transfer of containers of hot water, oil and other liquids and while working with and around deep fryers.
  • Molten metal burns among foundry workers, particularly addressing burns to the lower extremity while filling and working with molds.
  • Flame burns among scrap metal recycling workers, including those in which clothing ignites while welding or using cutting torches.

Publications

See the Work‑related burn injuries section on the SHARP publications page for the complete surveillance report, burn narratives and burn narrative fact sheets.

Contact SHARP for questions about the SHARP's work‑related burn program.

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