Coming in contact with boiling water or scalding steam puts you in serious danger of suffering significant burns. In some occupations, this is a constant threat and something that all workers must be aware of.
You may have heard that even when steam and water are technically the same temperature, steam can cause worse burns. Why does this happen?
The reason is that steam that burns your skin also goes through a phase change. It becomes water again. This is a fundamental change from a gas to a liquid. Steam touches your skin, drops in temperature — transferring that energy to your skin — and switches back into liquid form. All of this happens in a split-second, but that phase change also takes energy. This energy gets released at the moment of contact. Therefore, the energy from the phase change and the energy from the heat all goes into your skin at once, leading to severe burns.
Boiling water also transfers heat at the moment of contact, and it also decreases in temperature. Without the phase change, though, there is simply less energy in the system, so those burns tend not to be as severe as steam burns.
Of course, this does not mean water burns are not significant. Either one can land you in the hospital, leading to permanent damage and scaring. It’s just worth noting that steam at the same temperature is slightly more dangerous because of the way it interacts with your skin.
If you do get hurt on the job, suffering serious burns that change your life forever, make sure you know all of your potential rights to financial compensation.