Investing in Prevention of Chemical Burns in the Workplace: Everything you Need to Know

In the latest of our articles for businesses owners and private market investors, we’ll provide a health & safety refresher and reminder. We’ll reiterate some of the facts that consulting books have been advising small & large business investors alike to pay attention to over the last few years.

Chemical burns can severely damage the skin, mouth cavity, eyes, and even internal organs. By definition, chemical burns, sometimes also referred to as caustic burns, are injuries inflicted from corrosive substances.

The risk of chemical burns is highest in workplaces that deal with dangerous chemicals, or machines containing chemicals. Small mistakes can lead to serious injury and could even be deadly. This is why it is essential to have thorough training and education on how to prevent chemical burns in the workplace.

Investing in firms which take health & safety seriously can bring financial benefits

As well as being a moral responsibility on the part of the management team, the legal risk arising from health & safety issues such as burns is also significant to any entrepreneur in a business involving hazardous materials.

From an investor standpoint, any armchair investor looking to build an ethical portfolio would aim to steer clear from investing in businesses that are reckless in this arena. From ESG perspective, the best companies to invest in will ensure proper board representation from a member of management responsible for health & safety issues, and would put safety before profits. When investing in shares you may want to favour companies which are taking bold steps and leading in this space.

We’ll provide a short refresher on the risks involved before returning to the investor takeaways at the bottom of this article:

Types of Chemical Burns

Chemical burns fall under three major categories, according to severity of the burn:

1.       Superficial (First-Degree) Burn

Such burns only damage the outer skin layer, or epidermis. The skin gets very red and there can be significant pain, but the damage is temporary.

2.       Partial Thickness (Second-Degree Burn)

Here, the damage extends to the dermis, the second layer of the skin, and this leads to swelling and blisters. In some cases, second-degree burns leave scars.

3.       Full Thickness (Third-Degree Burn)

This type of burn extends to the tissues under the skin layers. Such burns are either white or black. Surprisingly, third-degree burns are often not painful since the injury destroys sensory nerves.

How to prevent chemical burns

Adequate training

Acknowledging the severity of a possible chemical burn is the first step to preventing it. You must make sure that all supervisors have proper safety training through courses, and pass on this knowledge to all team members. This will keep your employees alert and ensure they pay chemicals the attention they deserve.

Always be alert

Chemical burns are different from other injuries because they can be accompanied with an explosion or release of dangerous gases. This can happen quickly and employees have little time to react. This is why it should be mandatory for all employees to wear protective gear and use necessary precautions, even when everything seems ok. After all, it is most calm directly before the storm!

Focus on what you are doing

When working with dangerous or potentially fatal chemicals, you must accept that focus or distractions could make the difference between life, death or permanent injury. Properly handling chemicals, focusing 100% on what you are doing, and extreme professionalism are the best preventive measures, other than wearing the right safety gear. Be alert for warning signs to take the advantage of the few extra seconds before the chemical surprises you.

Invest in the right safety equipment

Not only must you provide the right safety equipment and workwear, but you must also train your employees in how to use them properly. The best business books reiterate that only when these assets are put into use by a trained and engaged employee will they provide a real benefit. Remember, the right safety gear could protect your workers in the case of an explosion, spill, or vapour burst. However, they need to wear or use it properly in order for it to be effective.

Treatment of chemical burns

Chemical burns, depending on the degree of damage, can involve a long recovery time, and injured people may not recover completely. Appropriate and immediate medical attention is key for minimizing the injury and keeping recovery time as short as possible.

Here are some tips for dealing with a chemical burn:

  • Immediately call the local emergency hotline – managers should display all emergency service numbers on walls.
  • Check the container as the label should have instructions to follow in case of an injury.
  • Flood the burn area with cold water for around 20 minutes or until the emergency medical assistance arrives.
  • While flooding the burn, make sure that the water doesn’t run over other parts of the body as this might spread the chemical.
  • Only use a gentle stream of water, because otherwise you may strip away the top layer of skin and allow the chemical to penetrate the tissues beneath.
  • Never apply alkali or acid in an attempt to neutralize the chemical because this can easily trigger a chemical reaction and make the burn more severe.
  • Never apply ointment or antibiotics to the burn – wait for professional medical help!

Key takeaways for business and investors

According to the Labour Force Survey, 23,000 employees in the UK suffered from scalds and burns at the workplace between 2015 and 2018. In some cases, chemical burns were fatal. Not only will the employee’s absence hurt the company’s output, but fines and compensation can be steep. Bankruptcy and financial distress are the possible outcomes of a class of claims against a company for widespread negligence.

Chemical burns at the workplace could cost more than most of us think. The famous Stonehouse, Gloucestershire case is the prime example where a company had to pay 1 million GBP after a couple of its employees were seriously injured by burns, though the fine was later reduced to 600,000 GBP Investigation found that the company did not follow proper safety precautions and so they were liable for this substantial fine. This single incident is enough to show the risks associated with chemical burns.

From studies performed by finance professors the world over, we already know as investors and business owners that investing ethically and taking ESG seriously can bring benefits for our investment portfolios. Caring about health & safety can be financially rewarding.

CDC Investment Works states that “Enhanced efficiency and productivity of operations by ensuring good working conditions and taking actions to prevent accidents. These measures can boost motivation and contribute to a company’s good reputation and its ability to hire new workers.

For UK retailer investors, options exist through investment platforms such as Nutmeg and Wealthify to pick an investment strategy that screens all underlying equities investments to ensure that they comply with ESG criteria.

So there’s a clear business case and this isn’t hard to do (there are already great funds to invest in which thrive in the ESG arena). This could be the year that your investment portfolio takes health & safety topics such as chemical burns seriously!