Burn injuries can cause permanent injury, loss of income and significantly impact an individual’s quality of life. Each year, thousands of workers are burned on everything from ovens and grills to heavy equipment that malfunctions and starts a fire. These injuries take years to heal and cost a significant amount of money to treat.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics show that in 2011, nearly 19,000 people were burned on the job. Workers who suffered chemical burns required a median of three days to return to work, and those who experienced thermal burns required a median of five days. These short recovery times represent workers who suffered first or second degree burns that did not require lengthy hospital stays and physical reconstruction after the burn was suffered. Burns can be caused by open flames, malfunctioning power outlets, and leaking gas mains that ignite.
Burns are rated based on the damage they cause to the epidermis and the organ systems. A first degree burn impacts only the outer layer. It can typically be treated with antiseptic ointment. A second degree burn affects both the epidermis and the dermis. Second degree burns cause severe redness, pain, and general discomfort. A third degree burn is more significant as it can damage nerves and lead to permanent loss of sensation. It can also result in permanent scarring. Finally, a fourth degree burn can penetrate deep into the muscle and impact organ systems. This makes fourth degree burns life threatening. Those individuals that do survive a fourth degree burn are often left physically scarred and can require extensive plastic surgery in order to regain both their appearance and their ability to work.
In 2000, the National Business Group on health estimated that burn injuries resulted in $6.2 billion dollars in lost productivity. Adjusted for inflation, that’s $8.6 billion dollars today. Approximately 97% of individuals who are burned will survive their injuries. Even so, those that do survive can be faced with years of treatment and reconstructive therapies before they recover.
Burns represent roughly 1% of total work related injuries in the United States. However, they account for nearly $10.4 billion in treatment costs every year. If there are no complications, it is estimated to cost $207,000 to treat a moderate burn, while a severe burn can cost over $1.6 million.
With complications from a burn injury, the costs of treatment can be considerable. Complications of burn injuries can include scarring and disfigurement. These occur in roughly 66% of all burn injury cases. Treating these complications can cost tens of thousands of dollars and require extensive plastic surgery to correct. Even so, the risk of permanent disfigurement from a thermal or chemical burn is considerable.
Roughly 57% of burn victims will require psychological counseling following the injury. Treating the psychological damage inflicted by a burn can cost up to $75,000 in therapy costs. These counseling sessions can take years to complete and the psychological damage a burn causes can also impact a workers ability to function within the worksite.
Other complications of burn injuries include fragile skin and skin breakdowns.These occur in roughly 55% of 3rd or 4th degree burns. These can cost upwards of $100,000 to correct and treat. These can delay wound healing and lead to skin graft failure. This occurs in roughly 32% of severe burn injuries.
Finally, infections such as pneumonia, sepsis, and organ failure are common secondary injuries suffered by burn victims. These occur when skin loses its ability to protect the individual from bacteria and viruses they may come into contact with. These infections can quickly add $120,000 or more to the final treatment cost. Moreover, if an individual is infected with an antibiotic resistant bacteria strain, the infection can quickly become lethal.
Male workers between the ages of 25-44 are the most common recipients of severe burns on the job. In 2007, the National Census on Fatal Occupational Health Injuries recorded 62 burn-related fatalities. 6% of these were caused by electrical burns and occurred in conjunction with electrocution of the worker.
Employers are required to provide adequate fire and burn protection for workers. This includes providing sufficient training, maintaining adequate fire suppression systems, and ensuring that First Aid materials are readily available to treat burn injuries when they occur. Workers who have been burned on the job should contact a Chicago workers’ compensation attorney to discuss the legal options available for recovering damages for injuries caused by an employer’s willful negligence.
Because the risk of burns can vary significantly from industry to industry, these protective measures must be specific and designed to address the most common risks workers within that profession may encounter. These are governed by regulations that have been put in place to protect workers from harm. When employers fail to properly protect their employees, the costs and life changing consequences can be considerable.