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Industrial Steam Injuries: Treatment and Prevention

Posted on 06/12/23 by admin in Personal Injury,Workers' Compensation

Baltimore residents recently experienced traffic disruptions and brief water outages due to a construction mishap. While working to replace a gas line, construction crews struck an unmarked water main, leading to an explosive ejection of steam north of the struck water main. The Baltimore fire department reported that four workers were treated for injuries, with three being hospitalized. These steam injuries in an industrial or construction context are regrettably common, and most are not accompanied by an explosion on a public street and the news coverage that such an event brings. We here at Malloy Law would like to wish all the injured a prompt and complete recovery, and would like to take this opportunity to explore steam injuries in more detail.

steam pipe

Understanding Steam

Water reaches its boiling point at 212 degrees Fahrenheit and subsequently turns to steam. When a concentration of steam makes contact with human skin, it can cause scalding almost instantly. Steam can be especially dangerous due to the molecular properties of water. When water is heated to the point where it becomes steam, it can rapidly expand to over a thousand times its liquid volume. This creates a pressurized environment. This means that in the event of a breach in the pressurized environment where the steam resides, the steam can escape as a forceful jet. These steam jets can be a serious injury hazard. Scalds from hot liquid or steam make up 35% of cases encountered at US burn centers. These scalds aren’t just limited to the skin. Steam can also burn interior tissues such as the throat and lungs, or mucous membranes in the mouth or eyes.

Steam in an Industrial Context

Numerous industrial sectors employ high-pressure steam pipes for a vast variety of uses. Catastrophic injury can result in the event that these pipes develop leaks. This can take the form of burns and scalds, as we’ve already discussed. But this is far from the only danger. If these leaks are neglected or insufficiently repaired, the pipe can buckle under the pressure of the steam and experience catastrophic failure. This can mean an explosive ejection of steam and destruction of the pipe. These violent explosions can lead to:

  • Hearing damage
  • Shrapnel wounds
  • Asbestos exposure (if the pipe’s insulation is old enough to contain asbestos)

Luckily, these high-pressure pipe leaks are often signaled by identifiable noise. Most commonly a persistent high-volume whistling. When a leak is suspected, personnel should avoid the area and make use of thermal imaging or ultrasonic acoustic equipment to identify the precise source of the leak. Once the leak is located, any personnel charged with making a repair should ensure they wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and exercise the utmost care while making the repair.

steam pipe

Treating Steam Burns

Due to the unpredictable nature of steam, injuries can still occur even if all necessary precautions are taken. Thankfully there is a well-established four-step procedure for treating these burns. We’ll recount these steps below.

  1. Remove the threat – Turn off or otherwise stop the heat source. Move the injured party away from it.
  2. Stop the burning process – The burn process with continue even after the skin is removed from the heat. This means the injury could get worse unless the affected area is cooled down. Run the affected area under tap water and continue to do so until it is cool to the touch.
  3. Cover the burn injuries – The injury should be wrapped with dry, sterile dressing.
  4. Seek medical attention if necessary – You can determine whether the burn is deserving of emergency medical attention by using the “rule of nines.” If the burn takes up more than 9% of the victim’s body, then you should call 911. 9% of the body is roughly equivalent to one arm, one half of a leg, one half of the back, or the head, chest or abdomen. If the victim reports shortness of breath, call 911 immediately. Steam burns in the throat can cause swelling in the airways.

When caring for a burn at home, be sure to keep the burn covered in a sterile bandage for at least 10 days. Change these bandages daily. If you suspect an infection, seek medical care immediately.

steam pipe

How Malloy Law Can Help

Steam injuries can be far more severe than hot water burns, and therefore should be approached with the utmost seriousness. Malloy Law would once again like to express our deepest sympathies to the injured construction workers in Baltimore. We hope they recover quickly and completely.

If you or a loved one has suffered a steam injury on the job, you may be entitled to financial compensation. Malloy Law Offices, LLC is home to the Beltway Region’s industrial injury specialists. Our experienced and diverse team of attorneys can pursue maximum compensation for your injuries, lost wages, and pain and suffering. We pride ourselves on a culture of empathy for the injured and individualized attention to all our clients. Contact us today, so we can fight for you.