Hot Water Scalds
Scalds From Hot Water
More than 1,200 Australian children under five years of age come to hospital emergency departments each year for the treatment of scalds. This is equivalent to 23 young children a week, or more than three a day. Between 2000 and 2004 12,159 cases of children under 4 years old accounted for burn related hospital admissions. The majority of these injuries occurred in the home and are largely due to hot drinks, foods, fats and cooking oils, and hot tap water.
About one in four of these children (300 annually) go on to be admitted to hospital. Of young children admitted to hospital for scalds, one in five are injured so severely that they need to be in hospital for at least a week.
The bathroom is one of the most hazardous rooms in the house for a baby or child. Scalds and burns can occur here, as well as falls and drowning. Most hot tap water scalds occur in the bathroom.
There are a number of ways to protect your child against serious injury in the bathroom. Some suggestions include:- Use a bath thermometer to ensure your child’s water temperature is always safe and comfortable. For small children, 37–38ºC is the maximum recommended bathing temperature.
- Child resistant taps can also be installed to stop children from turning on the taps, but they do not reduce the hot water temperature.
- A soft bath spout cover and non-slip suction mini bath mats can help prevent falls in the bath.
- To run a bath, always turn on the cold water tap before the hot water tap and turn the hot water tap off before the cold water tap when fitted. The same applies to the shower.
- Always check the temperature before putting a young child in the bath. You may check the temperature by dipping your elbow in the water or by using a bath thermometer. Remember, for small children, 37–38ºC is the recommended maximum temperature.
- Keep the bathroom door closed when not in use. You may wish to put a lock or bolt on the outside of the bathroom door, out of reach of children but accessible to adults.
- Always remain within arm’s reach of children in the bath.
- Never leave a toddler in the company of another small child.
- Take the child with you if you have to answer the door or telephone.
The average temperature of domestic hot water is 70ºC. A much safer temperature for domestic hot water is 50ºC. This is because water that is a lower temperature takes longer to cause injury:
- At 60ºC it takes one second for hot water to cause third degree burns.
- At 55ºC it takes 10 seconds.
- At 50ºC it takes five minutes for hot water to cause third degree burns.
Turn Your Hot Water Down
To reduce the risk of injury to your child from hot water scalds, install a recommended device to control bathroom hot water to a maximum of 50°C. Options include:
- Tempering valves – these are fitted to the water pipeline and mix hot and cold water to a specific temperature, adjustable between 35ºC and 50ºC.
- Hot water shutdown devices – these are fitted to the end of a tap and automatically cut off water flow once the water reaches the pre-set temperature.
By law, all new hot water systems are now required to comply with plumbing regulations, which limit all hot tap water to no more than 50°C in bathrooms at the basin, bath and shower in new houses and new renovations (AS/NZS 3500.4:2003: Plumbing and drainage). (The only exceptions to this are premises intended for children and the elderly – such as early childhood centres, schools, nursing homes and so on. These have a temperature limit of 45ºC). Older homes may not have this tempering device installed, however, it is possible to add this device to any bathroom.
Some simple steps you can take to prevent burns in the kitchen include:
- Keep hot drinks and handles out of reach.
- Do not hold young children when drinking something hot.
- Use non-slip place mats instead of tablecloths.
- Keep hot drinks away from the edge of the table or bench. You never know when that supposedly helpless baby will be able to reach or when a crawling infant will start to toddle. Make it a habit from the moment they are born to keep hot drinks out of their reach.
- Never carry hot drinks while children are playing underfoot. Make sure your care extends outside your home, when visiting relatives and friends or attending playgroups.
- Use a cordless kettle to prevent a child pulling over the kettle. Empty any unused water out of the kettle.
- Give toddlers their own special mug so they don’t drink from an adult mug or cup, which may contain liquid that is too hot.
- Carry plates to pots, not pots to plates.
- It is safer to serve cold drinks when children are present and to have a tea break when toddlers are sleeping.
- Your toddler may be safer in the playpen or in the highchair for a short time when you are very busy in the kitchen, or you could use a child safety gate.
- Turn the handles of saucepans towards the back of the stove, out of reach of small children.
- Use the back hot plates on the stove before using the front ones.
- Do not throw water on burning oil. Water can cause the fire to spread and cause serious burns.
- Be careful when heating food and drink in a microwave as they can overheat.
- Make sure the microwave is high enough that children can’t open the door to remove food or drink.
- Immediate first aid will reduce the severity of a burn. If someone has received a burn, you should:
- Apply lots of cold tap water (not ice or ice water) to the burn for at least 20–30 minutes.
- Remove wet clothing only if the skin is not blistered or stuck to the clothing.
- Take off anything tight such as jewellery. Burns cause swelling and it may hinder circulation.
- Cover the injury with a clean sheet, non-fluffy towel or tea towel.
- Keep the child warm and calm and dial triple zero (000) to call an ambulance, if the burn is severe.
- Burns are serious if they involve the face, hands, feet, genitals or bottom, or if the burnt area is larger than a twenty-cent piece.
What NOT To DoIf a child is burned, there are a few things you should not do:
- Never use butter, oils or ointments to cover the burn, as they may retain the heat.
- Never use ice. Children can be dangerously chilled in ice water.
Where To Get Help:< The Safety Centre Telephone Advisory Line, The Royal Children’s Hospital Tel. (03) 9345 5085
Child Health and Safety Resource Centre, The Royal Children’s Hospital Tel. (03) 9345 6429
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