How to treat burns – First Aid

Burns are the most common household injury and unfortunately a regular occurrence in certain work environments.  This article discusses how to treat burns.

More than 1 million people in the UK seek medical treatment for burn-related injuries each year.  50,000 people are hospitalised due to burn-related injuries.  4,500 people die from burn-related injuries.

Burns should always be treated as serious regardless of severity.  Before treating a burn-related injury, however, it is important to first determine the type and degree of the burn.
There are four different types of burn.  These include;

1) Thermal burns – caused by flames, hot liquids and other high heat sources.
2) Chemical burns – caused by laboratory or household chemicals.
3) Electrical burns – caused by power lines, electrical outlets and lightning.
4) Solar burns – caused by over-exposure to the sun.

How to treat burns

1) Thermal burns

Rinse immediately in cold water.  Use bottled water if the patient is not close to a water source.

Call 999 if the burn area is larger than 3 inches.

Be mindful that the person may also have inhaled smoke if burnt by a workplace or household fire.

2) Chemical burns

Remove contaminated clothing or jewellery and rinse the area immediately in cold water.  Use bottled water if the patient is not close to a water source.

Call 999 if the burn area is larger than 3 inches.  If the person shows signs of shock (such as fainting or shallow breathing) call 999.  If possible take the container with you to a hospital so that the doctors know what chemical the patient has come into contact with.

3) Electrical burns

Ensure the electricity is switched off or if caused by lightning that you and the patient are out of immediate harm’s way. Cover the burn with a dry, sterile gauze bandage.  DO NOT attempt to cool the burn with ice.

Call 999 if the source is a high-voltage wire or lightning, or if the person experiences loss of consciousness, difficulty breathing or a seizure.

4) Solar burns

Apply a cold compress or cooling gel.  Examples are aloe, menthol or camphor.

Call 999 if the person has a fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

Burn grades

First-degree burn

First-degree burns affect the top layer of skin also known as the Epidermis. Symptoms include redness and peeling.  Skin will feel painful and hot to touch for the patient. First-degree burns can typically be treated with a cool compress or by immersing in water until the pain subsides.  It usually heals without scarring within one week.  This grade is the only type where on-site first aiders can actively treat burns.

Second-degree burn

Second-degree burns affect the deeper layers of the skin, an area known as the superficial dermis. Symptoms include swelling and blistering of the area. Once the initial pain has subsided, patients will be treated with sterile gauze to protect from possible infection.  Second-degree burns will typically heal within several weeks but tend to cause mild scarring that may always be visible.

Third-degree burn

Third-degree burns affects an area known as the deep dermis, which in turn extends to every layer of skin.  It results in the loss of skin layers and the destruction of hair follicles and sweat glands.  Treatment is typically through surgery and includes possible skin grafts (grafting).  Healing can take months with the patient experiencing significant long-term scarring.

Fourth-degree burn

Fourth-degree burns are subcutaneous, reaching all skin levels, body fat and underlying tendons across the area where the burn occurred. This can cause the loss of all skin layers extending deep to the bone and surrounding muscle tissue.  Skin grafting through surgery is the only possible treatment, with the victim experiencing pain for many years after the event.  Fourth-degree burns cause significant scarring and in the worst cases may result in permanent disability or even fatality.


Burns are a real hazard in the workplace and a responsible person in the business should be trained to a level where they can identify different burn types and act accordingly.  TutorCare offers a number of first-aid courses including First aid at work and Emergency First Aid awareness, both of which give further information on how to treat burns. We also offer courses relating specifically to fire prevention such as Fire Safety Training and Fire Risk Assessment.

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