How Common are Burn Injuries at Construction Sites? November 5, 2020
Construction workers face a range of workplace hazards every time they walk onto the construction site. From slip and fall accidents to getting struck by falling objects, construction sites can be dangerous places if the appropriate safety precautions are not followed. Depending on the type of work that is being performed and the equipment that is being used, construction workers may be exposed to workplace hazards that can result in explosions, fires, steam burns, chemical burns, or smoke inhalation injuries. In addition to being excruciatingly painful, severe burn injuries can cause a range of health complications from infections to nerve damage and even death. In extreme cases, they can be fatal. A skilled construction accident lawyer will assist injured workers with the claims process.
Unfortunately, burn injuries are too common in the construction industry. However, they are largely preventable if employers and construction workers make safety a priority and take the appropriate precautions to prevent burn injuries. According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), over 5,000 workers are hospitalized each year because of burns caused by workplace accidents. In some cases, explosions, major fires, and exposure to hazardous materials can result in fatalities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that 66 construction workers die each year in construction site accidents involving fires or explosions. Because of the types of machinery construction workers use and the different hazards to which they are exposed, construction workers are at an increased risk for serious burn injuries.
How are Burn Injuries Rated?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) separates burn injuries into the following categories based on the severity of the burn:
- First-degree burns: These affect only the top layer of skin, known as the epidermis. First-degree burns are often red, painful, and may have mild swelling. However, they generally heal on their own within about a week.
- Second-degree burns: These affect the epidermis and the dermis, which is the second layer of skin. Second-degree burns can cause the affected area to become red and blistered, and fluid can leak from the blistered skin. The level of pain experienced by the victim increases considerably compared to first-degree burns. This type of burn injury requires medical treatment and can leave significant scarring.
- Third-degree burns: These are severe burns that affect the fat layer beneath the dermis. They can cause nerve damage and often cause the skin to become waxy, white, or leathery. These burns are extremely painful and require immediate medical attention. However, if the burn damaged the nerve cells, the victims may not experience pain. Skin graft surgery is often necessary to replace the skin tissue that has been destroyed.
- Fourth-degree burns: These are the most serious and often fatal type of burn injury. They penetrate beneath the skin and cause nerve damage and charred muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones.
If an employee suffers an occupational burn injury, he or she is urged to report the injury as soon as possible and file a Workers’ Compensation claim. Benefits will depend on the severity of the burn, the location of the burn, and the percentage of the body that was burned.
What are the Main Types of Burn Injuries?
There are three types of burn injuries, including the following:
- Chemical burns: This type of burn occurs when soft tissue, including the skin, eyes, ears, and lungs, is exposed to a synthetic, corrosive substance. Examples of corrosive compounds include acids, bases, oxidizers, thinning agents, and alkylating agents.
- Electrical burns: This type of burn occurs when the skin comes in direct contact with alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC). A worker can suffer an electrical burn from touching a functioning electrical socket or wire, falling into electrified water, or being struck by lightning.
- Thermal burns: These are caused by contact with a flame, steam, or boiling liquid, such as water or grease. Thermal burns can also occur when a worker touches hot pipes, tools, engines, motors, or other hot objects.
What are the Most Common Causes of Workplace Burn Injuries?
Serious workplace burn injuries are often caused by fires or explosions. However, the most common type of burn injuries at construction sites are thermal injuries from scalding pipes and extremely hot water, steam, and other types of heat-producing machinery and equipment. The following are examples of accidents that can also cause serious, life-threatening burn injuries:
- Extreme heat from steam, hot liquids, and other hot objects
- Electrical burns caused by exposure to wires, lighting, or other electrical sources
- Exposure to X-rays, sun lamps, ultraviolet light, and other types of radiation
- Defective fuel lines or tanks
- Unsafe welding practices
- Smoke inhalation
- Exposure to industrial or household chemicals in liquid, gas, or solid form
- Exposure to extremely cold conditions
- Friction burns from contact with hard surfaces, rugs, or roads
In addition to the actual burn injury, serious burns can also cause the following:
- Physical trauma
- Emotional trauma
- Bodily disfigurement and scarring
- Organ damage
- Body chemistry damage
- Sensitivity to changes in temperature
Regardless of the severity of the burn, it is highly recommended to seek medical attention. Even minor burns can become infected if they are not properly cleaned and treated. Electrical shocks can cause internal damage that the worker may not realize until the damage becomes serious. From a Workers’ Compensation perspective, delaying treatment or failing to seek treatment can give a Workers’ Compensation insurance company a reason to deny the claim.
Examples of Construction Site Accidents That Cause Burn Injuries
Most fires or accidents that cause burn injuries are the result of carelessness, negligence, or a failure to following the appropriate safety protocols. The following are examples of common construction site fire accidents:
- Concrete burns caused by a mixture of cement and water, which can be caustic
- Gas explosions
- Welding, soldering, grinding, and other tasks that can produce fire-causing sparks
- Chemical spills
- Temporary heaters that cause fires or explosions
- Electrical fires caused by temporary electrical set-ups
- Explosions involving rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, which are commonly used in construction tools
- Pipe explosions
- Fires caused by cigarette embers
What Benefits can Employees Receive for Workplace Burn Injuries?
If a construction worker suffers a serious burn injury while on the job, he or she will require immediate medical treatment. The more severe the burn, the more treatment and medical procedures the worker will require. For example, if a worker suffered a third-degree burn, he or she will need to be hospitalized so that medical professionals can clean the area, debride dead skin and tissue, and give intravenous fluids and antibiotics to prevent infections. Depending on the severity of the burn, the worker may require years of treatment and rehabilitation, which can be very costly. Workers’ Compensation benefits will likely cover the following expenses:
- Medical benefits: This will cover the medical expenses associated with the workplace injury, including hospitalization, surgeries, prescription medication, and rehabilitation.
- Lost wages: If the burn injury prevents the worker from returning to his or her job, Workers’ Compensation provides a percentage of the injured worker’s weekly wage. If the worker becomes disabled as a result of the burn injury, he or she may be eligible to receive temporary total disability, temporary partial disability, permanent total disability, or permanent partial disability benefits.
- Death benefits: If the worker’s burn injury is fatal, the surviving family members may be eligible for death benefits, which may include funeral costs and a percentage of the deceased’s salary.
Workers’ Compensation does not allow the injured worker to recover for pain and suffering or other non-economic damages. However, an injured worker may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit if a third-party’s actions caused the accident. The following are examples of third parties that may be eligible for a burn injury:
- General contractor or subcontractor
- Vendor who provided supplies or materials
- Manufacturer responsible for defective equipment
- Property owner
- Engineer, architect, or designer
New Jersey Construction Accident Lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP Represent Victims of Burn Injuries
If you or someone you know suffered a serious burn injury while on the job, do not hesitate to contact the New Jersey construction accident lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP. We understand how painful and devastating these injuries can be and will assist you with the Workers’ Compensation claims process. To schedule a free consultation, please call us at 800-222-8792 or contact us online. From our offices in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, Pennsylvania, we help clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including Allentown and Harrisburg.