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What to do if someone gets burned

Burn injuries affect up to 200,000 Australians per year. Burns can be caused by heat (eg: from fire, oil or cooking appliances), electricity, chemicals and UV light.

Understanding how to treat burns is crucial. Understanding how to stop them from occurring is even better.

Types of Burns

First degree – the burn affects only the outer layer of skin. These burns can be caused by exposure to sunlight or extremely hot surfaces.

Second degree – the damage goes deeper, reaching the dermis.

Third degree – the most severe type. Damage occurs to all layers of the skin and the tissues beneath.

Some burns that require medical attention include chemical burns, electrical burns, burns larger than a twenty-cent coin and burns that affect the hands, feet, face, joints, genitals or airways.

Treatment of Burns

The first step is always to remove the affected person and anyone else in the vicinity from any further danger. If their clothes are on fire, wrap them in a non-synthetic blanket or coat and roll them on the ground. If the burn is electrical, switch off the power source if you can.

Remove burnt clothing only if it’s not stuck to the skin. If it’s stuck to the skin, it helps to protect against infection.

If the burn requires medical attention, have someone call 000.

If the burn is small, run it under cool running water for 20-25 minutes. Don’t do this if the burn is severe or the person may go into shock. Once the cooling has started, remove jewellery like rings, watches and bracelets. Take care not too cool for more than 25 minutes in case the person’s body temperature drops.  Do not press ice against the burn as this can damage the skin and even cause frostbite.

After the wound’s been cooled, cover with a sterile dressing.

How to Prevent Burns

There are many ways to prevent burns both in the home and in the workplace.

  • Stay in the kitchen while food is cooking and turn the handles on the pots towards the back or centre of the stove.
  • Test the smoke alarms in your house regularly and change the batteries when necessary.
  • Avoid smoking in the house, especially in bed.
  • Install a fire extinguisher and learn how to use it.
  • Train staff in workplace health and safety, including the locations of the fire extinguisher and first aid equipment.
  • Plan how you’d get out of your home or workplace in the case of a fire emergency.

Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: July 31, 2016.

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