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Incident Prevention Magazine

4 minutes reading time (858 words)

Lowering the Threshold

Advanced products offer utility safety professionals a more effective method for treating burn injuries with less suffering and help reduce injury-related costs.

Utility safety professionals charged with lowering the risk of serious injury are undoubtedly focused on prevention. Not only does preventing workplace accidents eliminate pain and suffering, it also pays dividends in lower exposure to liability and in reduced Workers' Compensation and related costs.
It is also common practice among leading utility safety experts to provide products in the workplace that will make immediate treatment of injuries as effective as possible. This is especially true when it comes to treating burns, an injury that is perhaps more common than we realize.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, for example, the annual number of non-fatal burn cases involving lost workdays in private industry was approaching 25,000 as recently as five years ago. By work category, almost half of those incidents took place in service sectors such as utility line work. The department also notes that there are an average of 4,000 non-disabling and 3,600 disabling electrical contact injuries annually in the U.S. and that electrocutions are the fourth leading cause of traumatic occupational fatalities nationwide.
"The Department of Labor's statistics, however, do not address several issues," says Paul Slot, National Sales Manager at WaterJel, a manufacturer of emergency first aid burn care products. "For example, they only cover shock injuries and do not include near misses."

"What we find in utility operations," Slot continues, "is that safety professionals are not only willing to invest in personal protective equipment that can help prevent burn injuries, but also in things that can help deal with these injuries at the scene before emergency medical service personnel arrive. Utility safety directors are very interested in advanced burn care products for treating injuries on site."
Effectively cooling burn injuries is a well-established method of relieving pain and reducing skin and tissue destruction, according to Slot. "One of the main effects is the interruption of the damaging effect of the heat," he explains. "After a burn, heat is stored in the deeper skin layers. Cooling leads to the transfer of heat up to the skin surface and interrupts the after-burn effect. The most noticeable effect of cooling is immediate pain relief. At the same time, without cooling, a first-degree burn can become a second-degree burn. Likewise, a second-degree burn can become a third-degree burn from the after-burn effect."
The WaterJel line of water-based gel technology for emergency burn treatment includes blankets and dressings in a variety of sizes, and a selection of emergency burn kits. A face mask dressing with pre-cut eye, nose and mouth holes is offered as well.
WaterJel products utilize a water-based/water-soluble, bacteriostatic and biodegradable cooling gel. The burn dressings that carry the gel are made of a medical-grade, non-woven pad. The blankets are a gel soaked, specially woven worsted wool with hundreds of tiny pockets that transfer the gel to the burn. The blankets are also designed to extinguish flames or smoldering clothing.
By using WaterJel for cooling burns, Slot relates, heat is transferred from the skin surface into the gel. The temperature in the burn wound then decreases rapidly, which results in quick pain relief and reduction of skin destruction.

Starting in 2001, WaterJel products were tested in an international multi-center study with the installation of WaterJel burn kits in 56 EMS units and emergency doctor vehicles. The study was coordinated by the Institute for Emergency Medicine in Markdorf, Germany. Analysis of data collected shows positive trends for pain relief, a reduction of the need for analgesics and the user friendliness of the WaterJel system.
"The WaterJel system," the test's authors concluded, "when tested in direct comparison with traditional cold water treatment, offered effective cooling of burn wounds and there was no apparent clinical lowering of body temperature during the cooling phase."
A real world application of WaterJel took place in 1991 following an electrical explosion and fire at the New York Indian Point nuclear power plant. One victim, who suffered third-degree burns on 75% of his body, was initially treated with a dry burn sheet, which subsequently ignited. Once a WaterJel blanket was applied and cooled the burn injuries, however, the victim regained consciousness.

"Utility safety professionals are exhibiting a strong sense of responsibility by utilizing products for effective emergency burn treatment," Slot says. "They are also taking a proactive approach by requesting training programs in on-site burn care for work crews and other utility employees. We've seen many cases where utilities are organizing training programs by pulling together groups of employees in their operations, as well as in regional programs though alliances with other utility companies."
According to Slot, today's utility safety professionals are exhibiting interest in WaterJel products for emergency burn treatment because they realize that advanced solutions will not only mitigate pain and suffering but reduce the cost of injuries as well. In that respect, these professionals are effectively lowering the risk of and damaging effects of burn injuries in the utility workplace. ip

For more information about WaterJel products, visit

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