Scalds and burns

Burn injuries can have thermal (flame, scald, contact), electrical or chemical causes. House fires are the main cause of fire- and burn-related deaths, but children are more likely to be hospitalized for burns from contact with steam or hot liquids (scalds), including tap water. Hot water or other liquids can burn as badly as burns from a fire.

Children are particularly at risk of burns because their skin is thinner than adults’. A child’s skin burns four times more quickly and deeply than an adult’s at the same temperature.

What works to prevent burns?

Reduce water temperature at the tap to 49°C (120°F). The risk of tap water burns can be significantly reduced by turning down gas or oil hot-water heaters to 49°C (120°F).1 Electric water heaters have a higher risk of water quality issues and should be kept at 60°C (140°F), but temperature-control devices can be installed in the plumbing to make sure that water coming out of the tap is at 49°C (120°F).2

Prevent access to hot liquids and hot appliances. Children have been scalded by pulling kettles of hot water, pots of hot liquids or food onto themselves. Barriers should be placed around the glass doors on gas fireplaces. Fireplace doors can reach temperatures of 245°C (473°F) in about six minutes, and take approximately 45 minutes to cool down after the fireplace has been shut off. 3

Regulate products that increase the risk of fires and burns. In the 10 years after the federal government set in place stringent rules for flame-resistant fabric for children's sleepwear, the number of deaths due to children's sleepwear igniting fell to zero.4  Since child-resistant lighters were introduced, there has been a 58 per cent reduction in fires started by lighters.5

Install smoke alarms on every level of the home and in each sleeping area. Smoke alarms save lives; there is a threefold increased risk of fire-related death in homes without smoke alarms.6  Most children who died in residential fires were in homes without smoke alarms or without working smoke alarms. Alarms should be tested every month and batteries changed annually.

Additional resources

Too hot for tots (BC Professional Fire Fighters Association Burn Fund)

Endnotes

1 Erdmann TC, Feldman KW, Rivara FP, Heimbach DM, Wall HA. Tap water burn prevention: the effect of legislation. Pediatrics 1991;88(3):572–7.
2 Ytterstad B, Sogaard AJ. The Harstad Injury Prevention Study: prevention of burns in small children by a community-based intervention. Burns 1995;21(4):259–66.
3 Becker L, Cartotto R. The gas fireplace: a new burn hazard in the home. Journal of Burn Care and Rehabilitation 1999; 20(1/1):86–9.
4 Health Canada. Children’s sleepwear: flammability requirement guidelines. Ottawa; 2008.
5 Smith LE, Greene MA, Singh HA. Study of the effectiveness of the US safety standard for child resistant cigarette lighters. Injury Prevention 2002;8(3):192–6.
6 Runyan CW, Bangdiwala SI, Linzer MA, Sacks JJ, Butts J. Risk factors for fatal residential fires. New England Journal of Medicine 1992;327(12):859–63.