Merit Badge Hazards
Many of the merit badges available now have a Requirement #1 that begins "Explain to your counselor the most likely hazards..." or "Show that you know first aid for and how to prevent..." or something similar to ensure that scouts have considered potential safety concerns while working on the badge. This is not a superfluous requirement and should be covered by the counselor at the beginning of the badge work, not as a check off at the end.
This page lists the hazards and recommended first aid all in one place to support merit badge counselors, and for a quick refresh for scouts that already have the first aid skills.
- Abrasions - wounds to top layer of skin, usually quite painful but not deep. Symptoms include redness, pain, peeled off skin, bleeding. To treat - thoroughly clean the wound with clean, warm water, apply antibiotic ointment, and cover with a sterile gauze or bandaid to keep clean. Infection is an ongoing concern. Prevent by wearing protective clothing and being aware of surroundings.
- Allergic Reaction - a person's body reacts to a foreign substance. Symptoms include skin rash, hives, sneezing, itchy eyes, runny nose, tingling, swelling. Treat by getting away from the allergen and taking over the counter antihistamines. Prevent by avoiding the allergen.
- Anaphylaxis - severe allergic reaction causing shock. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, rapid, weak pulse, skin rash, nausea, dizziness. Treat by administering epinephrine, antihistamine, and emergency care. Prevent by avoiding the allergen.
- Altitude Sickness - reduction of barometric pressure and oxygen at higher elevations cause changes in the body. Symptoms include headache, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, shortness of breath, difficulty sleeping, lack of appetite. Treat by reducing elevation and monitoring, continue down to medical care if symptoms continue. Prevent by gaining elevation slowly, reducing physical activity, staying hydrated, and avoiding alcohol.
- Blisters (friction) - layers of skin work loose, forming a pocket that fills with liquid. Symptoms include pain, redness, a raised pocket of liquid in the skin. Treat by deflating the blister with a sterile needle or knife, washing the wound, and cover with antibiotic ointment, a moleskin doughnut, and layer of tape to relief pain, protect, and prevent infection. Prevent by wearing protective gear, such as gloves or shoes, keep the area dry and cool.
- Burns and Scalds - damage to the skin and tissue caused by heat. A burn is caused by dry heat, such as flame or hot metal. A scald is caused by hot water or steam. Symptoms include redness, pain, blisters, peeling skin, swelling, white or charred flesh. Treat by immediately removing the heat source, removing clothing and jewelry near the burned area, and cooling the burned area with cool running water for 20 minutes. Apply burn ointment and a sterile gauze pad wrapped loosely with a bandage to keep the wound clean. Prevent burns by being aware of your surroundings and using fire carefully.
- Choking - inability to get air into the lungs due to something obstructing the airway, often food. Symptoms include someone clutching their throat, inability to talk, squeeky sounds with each breath, skin turning blue or pale, unconsciousness. Treat by giving sets of 5 backblows and 5 abdominal thrusts until the blockage is dislodged. Prevent by cutting food into small pieces, chewing food slowly and thoroughly, and not eating and talking at the same time.
- Contusions - collection of blood in the flesh outside of blood vessels, typically caused by a blow to the area. Symptoms include discolored skin, typically purple, red, or blue, slight swelling of the area, pain that worsens when pressure is applid. Treat by using RICE (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate) on the area, or just leave it alone to heal. Prevent by being aware of your surroundings and wearing protective gear in contact sports.
- Cuts, Scratches, Scrapes - a breakage of the skin that allows blood to escape. Symptoms include redness, pain, and bleeding. To treat, apply direct pressure to stop bleeding, then clean thoroughly, apply antibiotic ointment, and cover with a sterile bandaid or gauze and bandage. Prevent by being aware of your surroundings, using sharp items correctly and carefully, wearing equipment such as gloves, shoes, and long pants when appropriate.
- Decompression Illness - injuries caused by rapid decompression of water pressure when ascending from a dive. Symptoms include joint pain, dizziness, headache, confusion, fatigue, tingling, numbness, weakness, rash. To treat, get medical care which would include oxygen and a hyperbaric chamber. To prevent, dive and ascent slowly, be well hydrated before diving, do not fly for 24 hours after diving.
- Dehydration - a body loses more fluid than it takes in and can not carry out normal functions. Symptoms include thirst, dark urine, fatigue, dizziness, confusion. Treat by drinking more fluids and stopping activity until symptoms are gone. Prevent by regularly drinking plenty of fluids, especially when doing exertive activities.
- Electrical shock - electricity entering a person may disrupt the normal electrical signals, cause cardiac arrest, and burns. Symptoms include convulsions, burn signs, unconsciousness, no signs of life. Treat by ensuring the source of electricity is turned off before approaching, then provide care for specific found symptoms. Prevent by being aware of your surroundings, turning off power before working on electrical systems, inspecting power cords, using corded power tools safely, using proper lightning safety.
- Eye Injuries - debris on the eye, chemicals on the eye, object impaled in the eye can all injure the eye. Symptoms can include redness of the white part of the eye and around the eye, pain, inability to see or open the eye, a visible object or debris, bleeding. Treat chemicals by flushing the eye with lots of clean water. Treat debris on the eye by pulling the upper eyelid down over the bottom lid, causing crying tears to flush the eye, or use a clean, wet cloth to blot the debris away. Treat embedded or impaled objects by leaving them in place, covering both eyes with a bulky dressing that puts no pressure on the object, and taking the person to a doctor. Prevent by being aware of your surroundings, wearing protective eyewear, using chemicals and tools carefully according to their labels and instructions.
- Fractures - a broken bone. Symptoms include severe pain, swelling, bruising, deformity, inability to use injured extremity. To treat, immobilize the injured area, apply cold to limit swelling and reduce pain, treat for shock. To prevent, eat calcium-rich diet, do exercise to strenghten bones, use equipment to prevent falls and to protect when falls are expected.
- Frostbite - freezing of the skin and underlying tissue, typically in extremities and exposed areas of skin, causing the cells to die. Symptoms include prickly feeling on the skin, numbness, red, white, bluish, or grayish skin, hard, waxy-looking skin. Treat by getting to a warm location, soak affected areas in warm, not hot, water. Prevent by wearing layers of appropriate clothing, covering all areas of skin, reducing time in very cold temperatures, maintaining a moderate activity level, not directly touching frozen ice or metal, using liquid fuel carefully in cold weather.
- Heat Reactions - heat exhaustion and heat stroke are the body generating more heat than it can expel, resulting in overheating of the body's core. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, headache, faintness, dizziness, fatigue, rapid pulse, muscle cramps, and nausea. Symptoms of heat stroke include red, hot skin, confusion, unconsciousness. Treat by cooling down in shade or indoors, cooling down with water and fanning, drinking water. To prevent, wear loose fitting, light colored, lightweight clothes with long sleeves and light, wide-brimmed hat, use sunscreen, reduce activity in hot weather, stay hydrated
- Hyperventilation - rapid breathing that alters the carbon dioxide level in your blood. Symptoms include dizziness, shortness of breath, weakness, confusion. To treat, keep the person calm and reassured, breathe with pursed lips, concentrate on taking controlled breaths.
- Hypothermia - a person loses more heat than they can produce, lowering their core body temperature. Usually caused by exposure in windy, cool, wet environments. Symptoms include shivering, slurred speech, clumsiness, lethargy, and/or confusion. Treat by warming the person up, gently if severe hypothermia, by replacing wet clothes, insulating from ground and air, moving indoors, drinking warm beverage. Prevent by staying warm through layered clothing and rain gear.
- Ingested Poison - swallowing any chemical, drug, or chemical that injures the body. Symptoms include redness around the mouth, breath that smells like the chemical, vomiting, difficulty breathing, drowsiness, altered mental state. To treat, be alert for clues such as partially eaten items, pill jar, or chemical bottle, call 911 or 800-222-1222 (Poison Help), do not induce vomiting unless directed by poison help. To prevent, keep medicines secured, wear personal protective equipment and ensure adequate ventilation when working with chemicals, absolutely identify any wild food before eating it, such as berries and mushrooms.
- Insect Stings - a wide range of insects are capable of injecting venom when they sting, with varying levels of injury to the person. Symptoms typically include swelling, redness, itching, pain, heat, numbness, tingling of the affected area. More severe symptoms include fever, vomiting, difficulty breathing, muscle spasms, unconsciousness. To treat, remove any stinger lodged in the skin, wash the wound, apply ice pack or cool cloth to reduce pain and swelling, apply topical anti-itch cream. If severe symptoms occur, call 911. To prevent, wear full-covering clothes and hat in neutral colors rather than floral prints, avoid scented lotions, use insect repellent, be aware of your surroundings.
- Motion Sickness - the brain is unable to interpret information being received from eyes, ears, and body. Symptoms include cold sweats, nausea, dizziness, headache, pale skin, rapid breathing. Treat by taking motion sickness medicine. To prevent, take motion medicine before traveling, stay hydrated, get fresh air, look out at the horizon, recline and close the eyes.
- Nitrogen Narcosis - In scuba, divers below 100 feet may be affected by pressurized gasses in their air tanks. Symptoms include seeming to be drunk, poor judgement, short-term amnesia, sense of euphoria, disorientation, hallucinations, unconsciousness. To treat, ascend to the surface in a controlled manner. To prevent, monitor behavior of divemates, limit dive depth.
- Poisonous Plants - contacting some plants leaves residue on the skin which irritates. Symptoms include red rash, blistering, swelling, itching. To treat, immediately rinse skin with lots of running water, apply calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream te reduce itching and blistering, take an over the counter antihistimine to help with itching. To prevent, wear long pants and sleeves, wear gloves, identify poisonous plants and avoid them.
- Puncture Wound - a small wound that may be deep, caused by being poked by a sharp object. Symptoms include bleeding, pain, debris left inside wound creating high potential for infection. To treat, encourage bleeding to clean out debris if it is not bleeding much, remove debris with sterile tweezers or irrigation syringe, clean wound, apply antibiotic ointment and bandage, monitor for infecction. To prevent, use sharp objects carefully, use footwear outdoors, wear gloves when handling potential puncture creating objects such as rough wood, cactus, and broken things.
- Rope Burns - skin abrasion caused by rapid movement of coarse material (such as rope) over the skin. Symptoms include redness, peeled skin, blisters, bleeding. To treat, clean the wound with cool running water, cover with burn gel, wrap with sterile gauze and bandage. To prevent, wear gloves, long pants and sleeves when working with rope, do not grab a moving rope.
- Shock - a sudden drop in blood flow through the body causing organs to not receive enough oxygen. Symptoms include cool, clammy, ashen skin, bluish tinge to lips, rapid pulse and breathing, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, anxious, unconsciousness. To treat, lay down and elevate feet slightly, keep body comfortably warm and calm, treat underlying cause of shock. Shock is caused by some other injury or illness, so there is no specific prevention for it.
- Snakebites (venomous) - puncture wound caused by snake fangs. Symptoms include bleeding, burning pain, redness, swelling, weakness, dizziness, nausea, sweating, blurred vision, fever, tingling in mouth, rapid pulse. To treat, get medical help immediately. While waiting, wash and bandage the wound, keep wound lower than heart, keep person calm and resting. To prevent, be aware of your surroundings, wear shoes and long pants, stay on trails, don't place hands or feet where you can't see.
- Sprains, Strains - a sprain is stretching or tearing of ligaments. A strain is a stretch or tear of a muscle or tendon. Symptoms include pain, swelling, bruising, limited ability to use joint. To treat, apply RICE (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate) every few hours, use over the counter pain medications, gradually renew exercise of the injured area after a few days. To prevent, do regular stretching and strenght exercises, warm up before doing strenuous activity.
- Squeeze - When diving, increased pressure outside the diver compresses air spaces within the diver's body. Symptoms include To treat, stop descent and equalize pressure differences. To prevent, preemptively equalize air spaces, descend slowly and in control.
- Stopped Breathing - With no breathing, the person will soon be dead. Symptoms include no signs of life. To treat, perform CPR. To prevent, keep breathing.
- Sunburn - radiation burn to exposed skin. Symptoms include redness, pain, blisters, swelling, sometimes appearing hours after the causing event. To treat, get out of the sun, take a cool shower, stay well hydrated, use over the counter pain medication, apply aloe gel, stay out of the sun. To prevent, wear wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, long-sleeved shirt, use sunscreen, limit time in the sun.
- Tick Bites - insect burrows into the skin to feed on blood, possibly passing disease to the host. Symptoms may take days to develop and include a red spot or rash, headache, nausea, joint stiffness and pain, fever, chills. To treat, remove the tick as soon as found with a tweezer, clean the wound. Get medical attention for symptoms that appear later. To prevent, wear long-sleeve shirt and long pants treated with permethrin, stay on trails, use DEET or picaridin repellent, check body often when outdoors, take a shower after being outdoor.
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