Imagine working in the fast food industry. It’s the lunch time rush, so you’re moving at a fevered pace trying to keep up with orders. As you’re running around removing fries from the 335° F oil or flipping burgers on the hot stove, you’re attention slips for a split second, and you burn yourself. According to a recent study completed by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH), for 79% of fast food workers this isn’t an imaginary scenario; it happens at least once per year. For 58% of fast food workers (over 2 million people), this happens multiple times each year.
But what’s even more startling than the sheer number of fast food employees who are burned, is the woefully inadequate treatment that these individuals receive when they are burned. Almost half of all burned fast food employees report that they receive inadequate treatment. But lack of treatment might actually be better than the advice given by 33% of managers. The National COSH report indicates that, “one-third (33%) of all burn victims say that their manager suggested wholly inappropriate treatments for burns, including condiments such as mustard, mayonnaise, butter, or ketchup, instead of burn cream.” This ‘advice’ demonstrates a clear lack of education among fast food management that is harmful to the recovery of burned employees.
For centuries, butter has been used as a folk remedy to treat burn injuries. The Prussian Surgeon General Friedrich Von Esmarch even recommended such a treatment in his 19th Century handbook on battlefield medicine. The thought process was that covering the wound with oil would seal the area and keep it clean and protected. Friedrich’s intuition may have seemed like it made sense at the time, but 200 years of medical advancements have proven his butter theory to be incorrect.
Medical experts explain that when greasy substances are applied to burns, they actually trap heat into the skin and make any further treatment more difficult. The proper method for treating a burn is to follow these six instructions:
- Move the affected area away from the heat source,
- Use cold water or compresses to cool the affected area,
- Do not break any blisters that form,
- Protect the skin with a dry, sterile bandage—preferably gauze,
- Leave any clothing that is stuck to the burned area intact (but cut around it if necessary), and
- Do NOT apply any ointments, oils, or sprays to the burned area unless prescribed by your doctor.
The prohibition against applying ointments, oils, or sprays extends to all condiments as well.
According to complaints filed with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, understaffing and pressure to work too fast are the main reasons why burns happen in the work place. Workers rights organizations are already petitioning to change fast food working conditions, but implementing these types of institutional changes is going to be a difficult, time-consuming process.
A more immediate solution is two-fold. First, managers in high burn risk industries, such as fast food, should receive adequate training on the appropriate first aid for burn injuries. The information is free and readily available from reliable online sources. Relying on centuries old folk medicine in the modern era of information is simply absurd.
Second, employees should have access to a properly equipped first aid kit. The same National COSH study found that 8% of fast food restaurants have no first aid kit at all, 14% have a first aid kit that is inaccessible to regular employees, and 19% have first aid kits missing important equipment. This means that over a third of all fast food restaurants are missing the most fundamental tool to properly treat a burn injury. In an industry where nearly 80% of employees suffered an on the job burn injury last year, missing such a basic, relatively inexpensive piece of safety equipment is unacceptable.