Last updated: 04.10.17

Acid or Corrosive Substance First Aid

Please note that this information does not qualify you as an official first aider, and Virtual College advise calling 999 in the first instance at the scene of an emergency.

This material and any associated assessments do not constitute a qualification or accreditation as an official first aider. All content provided is for general information only.

Virtual College advocate dialling the emergency services before attempting any form of first aid.

Acid or Corrosive Substance First Aid

Acids and other corrosive substances can be found in a variety of workplaces and sometimes in the home, which means that accidents involving them can and do happen. Giving first aid to people who have been harmed by these substances is essential, as they can continue to cause damage if not treated quickly.

In many cases burns that are suffered as a result of chemicals can be very severe indeed, and will require hospital treatment. Inhalation can also be a very significant danger too. By giving the correct first aid techniques, you can help improve the chances of a good recovery. In this article, we’re going to look at some of the most common causes of injury resulting from strong acids and bases, what can happen, and how you should treat the person as part of first aid.

Important: As chemical burns and other injuries resulting from contact with corrosive materials are always considered a medical emergency, you should call 999 as soon as possible.

Virtual College offer a number of courses on Health and Safety, including their Primary Survey course which provides useful information on how to deal with a first aid situation. Click here to discover more.

Treatment for Acid Accidents

Initial first aid for acid accidents is fairly straightforward.

Step 1: Remove any contaminated clothing from the person as soon as possible, as this may be continuing to cause harm. Be careful that it does not come into contact with your own skin and be aware of clothing that may have stuck to burns.

Step 2: If the substance is dry powder rather than a liquid, then try to brush it off.

Step 3: Use cool water to continually flush the affected area for up to 20 minutes. If the eyes have been affected, then ensure you hold the eyelids back to wash away any substance from under them.

Do Not:

  • Pierce any blisters or skin
  • Continually flood a small child with cold water as this can cause hypothermia
  • Use any type of cream, lotion or other treatment on the affected area

Due to the variable nature of accidents involving corrosive substances, you may also need to be prepared to treat secondary symptoms such as shock and even cardiac arrest.

Examples of Corrosive Substances

There are a great many corrosive substances in use in everyday life, and it’s not always possible to completely avoid them, particularly if they are present in the workplace. However, careful management of the substance is usually enough to prevent accidents from happening. In general, corrosive substances can be identified with labelling, which usually depicts a test tube dripping the substance onto a corroded bar or hand.

In the workplace, acids, bases, and other corrosive substances can be found in manufacturing products, construction products, cleaning products and more. Hydrochloric acid is probably the most well known of these. Similarly, at home, cleaning products such as bleaches are the most likely sources of corrosive material, though there are some health and beauty products that contain them too.

It is worth noting at this point that corrosive substances are not always liquids; they can also be powders.

What Can Corrosive Substances Do to The Body?

Corrosive substances can affect the body in different ways, depending on some of the following criteria:

  • The type of substance, such as whether it is a liquid or powder
  • How strong, or dangerous, the substance is
  • How long the person is in contact with the substance
  • Where on the body has been affected
  • Whether the skin was broken during the accident
  • Whether they were inhaled or only came into contact with the skin

If any of this information is known when you become involved in the first aid situation, then remember it, and relay it to the emergency services over the phone and when they arrive. This will help to ensure that the most appropriate treatment is provided.

Some of the recognisable symptoms of chemical burns on the skin include the following:

  • Irritation, itching, and redness or discolouration
  • Visible burns and blisters
  • Blackened skin
  • Severe pain at the site of contact
  • Numbness at the site of contact

If the substance has affected the eyes, then there may be similar symptoms on and around the eye itself, in addition to loss of, or changes in vision. If the acid has been inhaled, then coughing and shortness of breath is likely.

Severe accidents involving acids and other corrosive substances can be highly variable in their symptoms and outcomes, with secondary symptoms such as low blood pressure, difficulty in breathing, and even cardiac arrest all possible.

How to Prepare for emergencies

Everyone in the workplace should know the emergency procedures put in place for accidents involving acid and corrosive substances. Managers should plan and prepare to cope with such accidents and incidents by:

  • Ensuring that appropriate safety equipment is provided.
  • Training staff to handle an emergency incident and how to use emergency equipment correctly.
  • All employees should know treat a casualty and provide appropriate first aid treatment.
  • Create a plan to deal with the waste substances after an accident (e.g. a Spill).

For more information on dealing with severe first aid situations where CPR may be required, then visit our Health and Safety course section to learn more and receive training.

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