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Burns and scalds

Burns are a serious injury that can be caused by heat, electricity, chemicals, light, radiation or friction.

The severity of burns is measured with four levels.

Burns are injuries caused by heat, for example fire, electricity, chemicals, light, radiation or friction. The severity of burns is measured with four levels.

Scalds occur where burns are created by hot liquids (like boiling water, steam, or oil heated for cooking). These are generally first or second-degree burns.

Examples of burns

Examples of burns include:

  • first-degree burns (superficial burns) like mild sunburn affect only your outer layer of skin. Your burn site may be red, painful, dry, but generally has no blisters
  • second-degree burns (partial thickness) that are often caused by scalds, flames or when you touch hot objects. Your burn site will appear red, blistered, wet and shiny, swollen and painful. These burns often appear white and are at risk of infection
  • third-degree burns (full thickness) where your outer, and inner layers of skin (that is the dermis) are destroyed. Third-degree burns may also damage your underlying bones, muscles, and tendons. The burned skin is stiff and white, black, yellow or brown, dry and leathery and painless because the nerve endings have been burned. These burns are often caused by scalding liquid, prolonged contact with a hot object, corrosive chemicals, and contact with fire or electricity. You may need skin grafts, surgery and intensive care to prevent infection.

Control measures

Any workplace with a hazard that could generate burn injuries must undertake a risk identification and assessment process, and then implement control measures to protect staff from the risk/s.
Use the How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB) to assist in this process.


Second and third-degree burns should be assessed by a doctor or other qualified health practitioner.


You should notify WHSQ of an incident only if a burn or scald requires critical or intensive care.

Preventing incidents

Examples of how to minimise risk:

  • Slippery floors increase the risk of a worker making contact with hot food, hot oil or hot objects like cooking pots. Floor surfaces and proper enclosed slip resistant footwear are important control measures.
  • Place warning signs or stickers near hot equipment or surfaces.
  • Add a gravity-feed chute from the deep fryer to an external receptacle to eliminate the need to handle hot cooking oil waste.
  • Use automatic food lowering devices where available.
  • Cover equipment containing hot fat or fluids, when not in use.
  • Use a tray or trolley to serve hot liquids, plates or utensils.
  • Warn serving staff or customers if plates are hot.
  • Follow safe working practices (for example, when using an espresso machine or deep frying food).
  • Implement routine safety checks (for example, check that deep fryers and grills are turned off before closing time).
  • Wear appropriate personal protective equipment such as heat resistant gloves and aprons.
  • Use a waiter's cloth to protect arms while carrying hot plates or trays.
  • Ensure workers are trained in the use of hot beverage machinery such as espresso machines.
  • Take notice of warning signs regarding hot equipment.
  • Train workers in preferred techniques for handling hot items such as
    • opening doors and lids of steam heated equipment away from the body
    • keeping saucepan or pot handles pointing away from the edge of a stove and make sure the handles are not over hotplates
    • using dry cloths to pick up hot items in order to avoid scalding
    • remove all utensils from pans.
  • Install windows in the kitchen door to help prevent accidents involving workers carrying hot foods or beverages. Alternatively, provide entrance and exit doors.
  • Redesign the kitchen so work areas are away from heat sources.