Burns and Scalds


Burns are the third-ranked cause of injury related deaths in Canada. In the five year period from 1987 to 1992 there were 753 children hospitalized in one province alone due to burns and scalds.


There are countless ways in which children can get burned. Playing with matches, lighters, and electrical cords often results in severe burns, or even fatalities. Children have been scalded from pulling pots of hot food from the stove onto themselves, or from exposure to extremely hot water in the bathtub. And as we all know, hot liquids burn like fire. The potential sources of burns and scalds seem almost endless. We have to teach our children from a very early age to respect the dangers of fire, electricity, and excessively hot liquids. We also have to protect them by preventing them from being exposed to situations where they might potentially get burned.



The majority of fire related deaths (more than 75%) occur in private residences. A large percentage of burned children survive, although many require long term treatment. Functional losses as well as pain and psychological problems are inestimable (Annals of Emergency Medicine Feb. 1993).



1.   Burn Prevention in the Kitchen


·        Keep handles of pots and pans turned inward, and well away from the front edge of the stove. Pots might get pulled off the stove by little ones. Cooking on the back burners may help prevent this.


·        Always plan ahead before you move a hot pot, pan, or dish. Train yourself to determine where your child is in relation to you and your planned movement. Get into the habit of announcing a warning such as, “Hot stuff coming through!” Then always wait until the path is clear.


·        When you are carrying hot pots and pans, use pot holders. Never handle hot pots or kettles with wet or greasy hands. You do not want to risk dropping hot food or liquids onto a child. Take precautions even if the child is several feet away from you. Hot liquids can cover a large area if they get spilled; not only will your own legs and feet get splashed, but your child may get splashed as well.


·        Mop up spills promptly.


·        Avoid holding your child while you are cooking at the stove or microwave. Steam and splattering fat can cause serious burns. Be especially cautious when opening microwaved packages or covered dishes; the burst of steam can burn.


·        Coming into the kitchen in a rush to answer the phone or to attend to an emergency? Never sit your baby on the stove, even if you check the burners beforehand; your child might turn an element on when you’re not looking.


·        Install childproof knobs on the stove and use stove guards when small children are around the kitchen. Keep children far away from the stove. Remember that guards and knobs are only aids to safety; never rely on them totally.


·        Keep dangling cords from hot water kettles and other electrical appliances away from the counter where they can be pulled down. The risk of things being pulled down is, of course, increased if a child is in a baby walker.


·        Keep a fire extinguisher in a handy place in the kitchen. Learn how and when to use it. Consult your local fire department about the rules for identifying and extinguishing kitchen fires.



2.      Preventing Scalds


·        Don’t hold your child while you’re drinking something hot; scalds are commonly caused by spilled hot liquids. Remember that sturdy, wide-bottomed mugs may take more jostling around than more “elegant” cups before they spill the hot contents.


·        Keep hot liquids – coffee, tea, grease, soup – off counters and away from young children. Be sure that appliance cords for kettles, bottle warmers, mug warmers, frying pans, and deep fat cookers are not within reach of little hands.


·        Cook on the back burners and turn pot handles toward the back of the stove.


·        Pre-set your hot water heater to 120oF (48oC) or less. Severe burns have resulted from the tap being turned on unintentionally. Consider installing an anti-scald device on the tap.



Prevention of tap water burns requires reduction in the temperature of tap water to 120oF (48oC). At this temperature, it takes 10 minutes of exposure to cause full thickness burns in adult skin; at 125oF (52oC), the corresponding time is 2 minutes; at 130o F (54oC) the time is 30 seconds. Exposure to a water temperature of 140oF (60oC) for only three seconds can result in third degree burns that would require hospitalization and skin grafts.



Scalds happen frequently to young children at home but can be prevented. One to two seconds exposure to 65oC (150oF) hot water will result in a serious burn. The most common scald in the home is caused by spilled coffee, tea or other hot drinks.


·        Test the water before you put your child into the bath.


·        Never leave infants or young children unsupervised in the bathtub – not even to answer the phone. Don’t let older children prepare baths for youngsters unless you are absolutely sure that they will consciously keep the water temperature low and will be able to conduct themselves appropriately in case of an emergency.



3.   Safety and Electricity


·        Cover all electrical outlets that are not being used with safety plugs or childproof electrical outlet covers. When you use an outlet, remember to replace the safety plug immediately after you finish using it.


·        Do not leave light bulb sockets empty when a lamp is plugged in; little fingers may find their way into them. Use socket safety plugs. These will help reduce the chance of your children sticking an object into the socket.


·        Keep electrical cords out of your baby’s reach. Use cord shorteners, or tape electrical cords to the walls or under furniture. Remember that children have been known to bite electrical cords. The devastating result can be severe burns to the mouth that may disfigure or even kill. Of course, electrocution is also a possibility.


·        Don’t forget that there are electrical plugs on the outside of your house and in your garage. Take appropriate precautions.


·        Do not leave appliances such as hair dryers, vacuum cleaners, and irons plugged in when they are not in use.



Copyright 1995 Safety Health Publishing Inc.


Martin Lesperance is a fire fighter/paramedic and is the author of the best selling book “Kids for Keeps: Preventing Injuries to Children”. Martin delivers keynote presentations dealing with injury prevention. His talks are funny, but still have a strong underlying message. Visit his website at www.safete.com