The topic of this Toolbox Talk is focused on Burn Severity and how to treat burn wounds. Burns result from damage to skin tissue caused by heat, chemicals, sunlight, electricity, or radiation, often occurring accidentally. The severity of a burn, categorised by degrees, is determined by healthcare providers based on the depth and extent of skin affected. Burns can be painful and, if untreated, may lead to infection.

Types of burns

  • Thermal burns. These burns result from contact with heat sources that elevate skin and tissue temperature, leading to tissue cell death or charring. Thermal burns can be caused by hot metals, scalding liquids, steam, or flames contacting the skin.
  • Radiation burns. These burns are due to prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays of the sun or to other sources of radiation such as X-ray.
  • Chemical burns. These burns are due to strong acids, alkalies, detergents, or solvents coming into contact with the skin or eyes.
  • Electrical burns. These burns are from electrical current, either alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC).

Classification of burns

First-degree burns: affect the outer layer of skin (epidermis), causing redness, pain, and dryness, as seen in mild sunburn. Long-term tissue damage is rare and may involve changes in skin colour.

Second-degree burns: Involve the epidermis and part of the dermis, causing redness, blisters, swelling, and pain.

Third-degree burns: Destroy the epidermis and dermis, potentially damaging bones, muscles, and tendons. In cases where these deeper structures are affected, it may be termed a fourth-degree burn. The burn site appears white or charred, and there is no sensation due to nerve endings being destroyed.


Treating Major Burns:

  • Safely remove the burned person from the source of injury and ensure no contact with it.
  • Check and maintain the person’s breathing; initiate rescue breathing if necessary.
  • Avoid removing clothing stuck in the burn and remove tight items from the affected area.
  • Cover the burn loosely with gauze or a clean cloth.
  • Elevate the burned area if possible.
  • Monitor for signs of shock, such as cool, clammy skin, weak pulse, and shallow breathing.

Treating Minor Burns:

  • Cool the burn under cool running water for about 10 minutes; use a cool, wet cloth for facial burns or mouth burns.
  • Remove tight items quickly and gently before swelling occurs.
  • Avoid breaking blisters; if one breaks, clean the area with water and apply an antibiotic ointment.
  • Apply lotion with aloe vera or cocoa butter after the burn has cooled.
  • Bandage the burn loosely for protection and pain relief.
  • Consider nonprescription pain relievers like ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, or acetaminophen if needed.

Download the full Toolbox Talk document on Burn Severity below:

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