Quote Request

Contact Us

My Basket (0)

How to Handle First Aid For Burns in 13 Easy Steps

How to Handle First Aid For Burns in 13 Easy Steps

How to Handle First Aid For Burns in 13 Easy Steps

Reading time: 12 minutes.

What you need to know

Each year some 13,000 burns injuries are treated in British hospitals and around 200 people die from burn-related injuries. A third of adult burns are work-related.

The most common types of burn injuries in the workplace are as a result of accidental misuse and handling of hot processes and equipment, chemicals or electricity.

First aid equipment, facilities and materials for your employees are essential. If an employee is injured, you must make sure that they can receive immediate attention, and have equipment, facilities and trained staff available.

A first aid needs assessment will help you to identify risks and hazards in the workplace and what should be included in your first aid kits. British Standard BS 8599 provides information about the contents of workplace first-aid kits.

Environments using hot processes and where flammable liquids are stored, such as warehouses and factories, might be well-prepared to deal with burn injuries. However, water and steam, chemicals, electricity and radiation can all lead to burns, as well as dry heat and fires, so it’s important to assess every workplace for the risk of burn injuries.

What happens if you don’t have proper arrangements to provide first aid for burns

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will prosecute where there is significant risk, but established standards have not been followed or you have regularly failed to comply with the law.

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act you can receive an unlimited fine, imprisonment for up to two years or both, and you might also have to pay compensation for personal injury, loss or damage. You could receive a community sentence or be disqualified from activities related to the management of the company where the offence took place.

What you will learn from this guide

A first aid needs assessment will allow you to understand how heat, hot water and steam, chemicals, electricity, and radiation in your workplace could result in burns. This will help you to decide:

  • what supplies to treat burns should be included in workplace first aid kits
  • what training is needed
  • how many people should be trained.

There are some basic steps to follow if someone receives a burn at work and it’s important to understand the levels and severity of burns and when further medical assistance is needed.

Depending on the risks identified in your workplace, you might need specialist advice about the number of first aid personnel you need and their training and to be sure that the right supplies are available in your first aid kits.


1. First aid for burns – business requirements

The Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981 say that all employers must provide ‘adequate and appropriate’ equipment, facilities and personnel to provide immediate attention for employees if they are injured or taken ill at work.

The Regulations apply to all workplaces, even those with less than five employees, and they also cover self-employed people.

What you should provide will depend on how your workplace is used. This includes whether trained first aiders are needed, what should be included in a first-aid box and whether a first-aid room is necessary.

Employers aren’t required to provide first-aid for non-employees such as the public or children in schools. However, the HSE strongly recommends that non-employees are included in an assessment of first-aid needs and that provision is made for them.

Sign for first aid

Even a minor accident resulting in a burn can be very painful. Your first aid requirements could range from a soothing gel to treat a burn after touching a hot kettle in a small office kitchen to burns kits in a manufacturing environment where there are known burn risks. Higher risk workplaces will need more highly trained staff and, in some cases, specialised first aid arrangements.

First aid equipment boxes and facilities must be easy to find; all first aid containers should be marked with a white cross on a green background. The minimum requirement is for one first aid container and first aid materials for each worksite. Large premises will need several containers.

Please see our guide for advice on first aid in the office.

Back to index

2. First aid needs assessment

You must assess what facilities and personnel will be appropriate for your workplace.

You will need to take account of:

  • how many first aid personnel will be needed, including cover for annual leave and other absences
  • the hazards and risks in your workplace
  • the number of employees and others who could need assistance
  • who might need first aid and where they will be
  • your organisation’s history of events requiring first aid
  • likely emergency response times for medical assistance
  • any travelling, remote or lone workers
  • employees working at shared or multi-occupancy sites
  • temporary and contract employees.

The table below gives an indication of the number of first aid personnel required according to the number of employees, assuming that the more employees there are, the greater the probability of injury or illness.

Category of risk Number of employees Suggested number of first aid personnel
Lower-risk organisations such as shops and offices Fewer than 25 At least one appointed person
25 to 50 At least one first aider trained in Emergency First Aid at Work
More than 50 At least one first aider trained in First Aid at Work for every 100 employees (or part)
Higher-risk organisations such as construction sites, where chemicals are used or where there is hot machinery Fewer than 5 At least one appointed person
5 to 50 At least one first aider trained in Emergency First Aid at Work or First Aid at Work, depending on the type of injury that might occur
More than 50 At least one first aider trained in First Aid at Work for every 50 employees (or part)

New standards for workplace first aid kits and vehicle first aid kits were published in January 2019. The standards give details of what should be included in different types of workplace first aid kit and their containers.

Personal issue kits and critical injury packs have been added to the standard and there are tables of what should be contained in workplace first aid kits, along with a guide on the size of the kit, depending on the type of environment where it will be used.

It’s important to consider which areas in your workplace could represent risks that could lead to someone needing first aid for burns. Regular checks should be carried out to make sure that safety measures are in place and that your first aid provision is adequate.

For example, if there is a kitchen area in the workplace, ensure that you check hobs, kettles and microwave ovens regularly and confirm that safety inspections and certificates are all up to date.

You should also:

  • make sure that all employees know where they can find first aid kits and how to use them
  • provide warning signs where hot water is used in kitchen or toilet facilities, and ensure that the temperature is no higher than 120 degrees Fahrenheit (48 degrees Celsius)
  • regularly check electrical cables and replace any that have exposed wires
  • make sure chemicals are stored in a safe place when not in use
  • provide appropriate protective equipment.
Back to index

3. Causes of burns

As well as hot liquids, hot surfaces and flames, chemicals, electricity and a wide range of other heat sources can cause serious burns. Chemical and electrical burns are more likely to cause internal damage so they should be treated immediately even if they appear to be minor.

Dry heat

Dry heat such as hos metal or fires

Scalds from hot water or steam

Scalds from hot water or steam

Acids and chemicals

Acids and chemicals

Hot oil burns

Hot oil burns, often during cooking

Electricity and lightning strikes

Electricity and lightning strikes

Sun burn and other radiation

Sun burn and other radiation

Back to index

4. Dry heat burns

Burns are frequently caused by dry heat from a metal surface or fire for example. They can cause redness, swelling, and peeling and can lead to white or charred skin or blisters.

Back to index

5. Scalds

Scalds by hot water or steam can also cause serious burns.

Back to index

6. Acid and chemical burns

These burns can be very serious so the emergency services should be called. Any contaminated clothing should be carefully removed if possible. You must be very careful not to touch the chemical yourself or allow the chemical to come into contact with a wider area of the patient’s skin.

Back to index

7. Hot oil burns

Oil burns most commonly happen during cooking, often due to splashes or spills.

Back to index

8. Electrical burns

Anyone injured by contact with electricity should see a doctor as there could be internal injuries that aren’t visible. Emergency services should be called for anyone who has received a burn due to contact with a high voltage wire or lightning.

You should not touch someone who has received an electrical burn and should stay at least 20 feet away until the power is turned off. Don’t move them unless they are in immediate danger.

If it isn’t possible to turn off the electricity, and it’s safe to do so, move the electricity source away using a dry, nonconducting object made of cardboard, plastic or wood. If there are no signs of breathing or circulation begin CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and keep the person warm.

Back to index

9. Radiation burns

The most common radiation burns are sunburn due to ultraviolet radiation and burns due to radiotherapy treatment. In high risk environments, where there is a nuclear power source for example, the first aid needs assessment will identify requirements for specialist training and emergency procedures.

Back to index

10. Burn levels

It’s important to understand how serious a burn might be. There are four different levels, known and ‘degrees’.

  • First-degree - the skin reddens and there is minor swelling or inflammation but no obvious blistering. These burns will normally heal naturally. However, medical help will be needed if the burn covers an area of skin larger than three inches, or if it’s on your face or above a joint, such as an ankle, elbow, foot, forearm, knee, shoulder or spine.
  • Second-degree - there is blistering and some thickening of the skin which can become very sore and red. The blisters might burst, and liquid will seep out. Additional soft and thick tissue, similar to a scab, might develop over the wound.
    The area around the wound and the wound itself must be kept very clean. As with first-degree burns, medical advice might be needed, depending in the size and position of the wound.
  • Third-degree – these burns are more serious, although they might initially seem to be less painful due to nerve damage. There will be blistering, thickening of the skin over a wide area and skin will be discoloured and leathery. Immediate medical help is needed and, if possible, you should raise the burnt area so that it is above the level of the heart.
  • Fourth-degree – as with a third-degree burn, but with additional damage to bones and tendons.
Causes of burns
Back to index

11. First aid treatment for burns – a step-by-step guide

Any type of burn is painful and distressing. It’s important that treatment is given as quickly as possible.

First aid for burns step-by-step guide

1. Stop the burning process – remove the person from the cause of the burn and, if you can do so safely, put out small fires with water or smother them with a fire-retardant blanket. If the burn is electrical, switch off the electricity supply before touching the patient.

First aid for burns step-by-step guide

2. Remove clothing or jewellery near the burnt area of skin – don’t try to remove anything that's stuck to burnt skin because this could cause even more damage.

First aid for burns step-by-step guide

3. Cool the burn – as soon as possible after the injury use cool or lukewarm running water for 20 minutes to cool the burn. For acid and chemical burns make sure the water can run off the affected area without pooling on the skin.

Don’t use ice, iced water, or any creams or greasy substances like butter.

If available, sterile burn gels made specifically to relieve the pain of minor burns, can be used.

A topical cooling gel containing Lidocaine will cool the burn, soothe the skin and ease pain.

First aid for burns step-by-step guide

4. Keep the patient warm – avoiding the injured area, add a blanket or extra layer of clothing. When you're cooling a large burnt area there is a risk that body temperature could drop below 35C (95F); this is known as hypothermia.

First aid for burns step-by-step guide

5. Protect the burn - place a layer of cling film or gauze over the burn, rather than wrapping it around an entire limb. A clean clear plastic bag can be used for burns on hands. This will keep the wound clean and prevent moisture loss.

To reduce swelling, the patient should remain sitting upright as much as possible.

Back to index

12. Medical attention for burns

Minor burns must be kept clean and blisters that form should not be burst.

More serious burns should receive professional medical attention, especially:

  • chemical and electrical burns
  • large or deep burns; anything bigger than three inches in diameter
  • any burns that cause white or charred skin
  • burns on the face, hands, arms, feet, legs or genitals that cause blisters

If someone is affected by smoke or fumes, they should also receive medical attention. Symptoms may be delayed and can include:

  • coughing
  • a sore throat
  • difficulty breathing
  • facial burns.

People at greater risk from the effects of burns, such as pregnant women, should also get medical attention after a burn or scald.

Back to index

13. First aid kit for burns

First aid kit for burns

To provide rapid first aid for employees with a burn or scald, burns kits in the workplace are essential. Even in workplaces where fire is not a high risk, it’s a good idea to have a burns kit. Your burns kit could include:

  • burn dressings in various sizes
  • burn gels
  • cold packs
  • gauze pads and bandages
  • microporous tape
  • basic first aid equipment like gloves and scissors.

You might also choose to include pain relief in your supplies, eyewash pods and a foil blanket.

Your first aid kit supplies will display expiry dates, so it’s important to check them regularly and to replace them when needed

Back to index

Summary of the key points in this guide

  • There are burn risks in almost every workplace.
  • Your first aid needs assessment will highlight what you need to do to meet your obligation to provide appropriate first aid equipment, facilities and materials for your employees.
  • There are four degrees of burn, according to their severity.
  • There are five basic steps when administering first aid for burns
  • Medical advice might be needed for any burn, depending on its size and where it is on the body.
  • Electrical and chemical burns can cause internal injuries which might not be visible, so medical advice is needed.
  • Your first aid kits should include appropriate supplies for the level of risk and types of burns identified in your first aid needs assessment.
Back to index

First aid for burns - frequently asked questions

If clothes are stuck to the burn, should I try to remove them?

Wait for medical assistance to remove anything that is stuck to a burn. You can remove clothing and jewellery that is near the burn, but not stuck to it.

Why is cooling the burn important?

Cooling the burn helps reduce pain and lowers the risk of long-term scarring.

Should I put butter, cream, toothpaste or petroleum jelly on a burn?

Butter, cream or toothpaste will not cool a burn. In fact, oils retain heat, so this won’t be helpful. Menthol in toothpaste might give a cooling sensation, but it won’t help a burn. If you put anything on a burn that needs to be removed in hospital later, it might cause further pain and damage.

Back to index