Keeping mechanics out of harm's way

Keeping mechanics out of harm's way

All those car and truck mechanics we see laboring away every day under the hoods are actually in harm's way of serious burns if the owner-operator of the premises doesn't pay attention to an often overlooked dangerous condition of property. The biggest irony is that the safety measures are so simple.

So just what are we talking about? Technically it is called "electrothermal ring burns" from car batteries triggered by short-circuiting through the ring when it touches the open terminal or metal housing of an exposed car battery. Yes, it's "ring" as in wedding band.

A good illustration is the case of an auto mechanic who was holding a wrench when his gold ring touched the positive terminal of a 12-volt car battery. What closed the dangerous circuit was that the wrench touched both his ring and the exposed negative terminal of the battery. Twelve volts doesn't sound very onerous to the uninitiated, but he suffered a hugely painful circumferential burn at the base of his ring finger. After a money draining layoff of 3 weeks, doctors determined that he needed a full-thickness skin graft. An 8x2-cm full-thickness skin graft was harvested from the upper arm and placed over the defect after preparation.

Gold, a typical ring material can heat up to its melting point in a matter of seconds, searing right through skin and underlying sinew. A gold ring conducts heat and electricity more than a platinum ring because gold has higher thermal conductivity but lower resistance. The solution to this workplace hazard: Educate staff about the potential risks of contact burns. A no-brainer is that all jewelry should be removed, and the live battery terminal should be securely covered while working in the vicinity of the battery.

Despite some preliminary prevention efforts, these workplace injuries are still occurring. A picture is worth a thousand words and one look at a catalogue of these burn injuries would be reason enough for employers to step in and solve the dangerous situation.

Of course, danger in the workplace that causes harm to an employee is the province of skilled personal injury attorneys who can carefully look at the potential liabilities.

Source:, "Electrothermal Ring Burn From a Car Battery" Paul A. Sibley, Kenneth A. Godwin, Aug. 11, 2013


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