Occupational burns cause significant morbidity in the United States each year; however, there are few studies that report industries or workplaces where workers are at an increased risk of burn injuries. Washington State's Department of Labor and Industries (L and I) computerized workers' compensation database was used to describe work-related burns over 5 years. From 1989 to 1993, L and I accepted 27,323 claims for occupational burns, 71.4% of them thermal burns and 26.8% chemical burns. The most common sources of injury were cooking oils (14%) and hot water/steam (13%). Workers involved in food preparation or food handling accounted for the highest proportion of injured workers (30%). Industries involved in the smelting, sintering, or refining of ore had the highest rate for thermal burns, with a rate of 15.0 burn injuries per 100 full-time equivalent workers per year, followed by paper, pulp, or wood fiber manufacturing, with a rate of 5.8, then roof work, with a rate of 4.3. Industries involved in hazardous waste landfill clean-up had the highest rate for chemical burns, with a rate of 4.9, followed by portable cleaning and washing, with a rate of 3.5, and paper, pulp, and wood fiber manufacturing, with a rate of 2.6. Further study is needed to identify work practices that result in burn injuries in order to decrease the incidence of this preventable occupational injury.
Joel E. McCullough, MD, MPH, MS, 4676 Columbia Parkway, MSR-10, Cincinnati, OH 45226