It often comes as a surprise to parents just how easily a young child can badly burn themselves. Because their skin is more delicate than an adult’s, a baby or toddler is more at risk from serious burns.
“Everyone in the burns unit was there because of an accident. None of them were born that way and they hadn’t developed a disease to make them disfigured. In a split second their whole life changed.”
A cup of tea could be the most dangerous thing in your lounge. Any hot drink can scald a baby even 15 minutes after it’s been made.
In fact, 95% of all childhood burns and scalds happen at home. Most are caused in the day-to-day situations that many parents don’t anticipate, like children reaching a hot drink or grabbing hair straighteners. We have highlighted some of the other dangers in and around the home and some tips on how to prevent injury.
Preventing burns and scalds
In the kitchen
There’s more to watch out for than just the oven – kettles, hot drinks and saucepans can all burn. Young children can climb on chairs and counters and may often reach higher than you think.
Saucepans can seem like fun things to try to grab. Turning the saucepan handles away from the edge of the counter or cooker and using the back rings keeps them out of reach of little hands.
Kettle cords are also a temptation, but if you push the cord to the back of the worktop, or use a kettle with a short or curly flex, you will be able to keep them out of reach.
Hot drinks can easily be knocked over or grabbed by little fingers, and a cup of tea can burn even 15 minutes after it’s been made. So put your baby or child down before picking up your hot drink, avoid passing them over children’s heads and keep them out of reach of children. Push your black tea or coffee to the back of your worktop before getting the milk out of the fridge – lots of accidents happen this way.
Hobs and hotplates can all stay hot even after they’ve been turned off, and oven doors can be very hot when the oven is on. You can teach children how to behave safely around them, but they might not understand or remember the danger so it’s best to keep them away.
Microwaves don’t heat things in the same way as a cooker. Avoid warming babies’ bottles in the microwave, the milk may heat up unevenly leaving spots of very hot milk which can scald your baby’s mouth. Use a warmer or jug of hot water instead. Shake the bottle well after warming and test to make sure it’s lukewarm not hot.
Chip pans can easily cause fires! If you don’t want to switch to oven chips, or use an electric deep-fat fryer, make sure you only fill your pan 1/3 full and keep an eye on it.
Matches, cigarette lighters and candles are grown-up objects. Toddlers and young children can find them fascinating. It’s safest to keep matches, lighters and candles out of their reach and sight. If you can lock them away, even better. Remember that even though lighters are child-resistant, many 3 and 4 year olds will be able to operate them in a few seconds – and the child-resistant mechanism is no barrier for older children.
In the bedroom
Hair straighteners and curling tongs. Hair straighteners get really hot and can still burn even after they’re unplugged. In fact, hair straighteners can reach temperatures of 235oC – that’s as hot as an iron. They get so hot you could cook breakfast on them. If they can fry bacon, imagine what they can do to a child’s skin!
If they’re stored safely on a high shelf, or put inside a heatproof bag, you can stop your little ones from playing with them, or touching or stepping on them by accident.
In the bathroom
Whether your child loves it or hates it, there’s no avoiding bath time. A baby’s skin is 15 times thinner than an adult’s, so hot water can pose a real danger to children.
Cold before hot. You can make sure the water is the right temperature by putting the cold water in the bath first. When the cold water has run, add the hot to get the right temperature.
The elbow test. The quickest way to check! Dipping your elbow into the water gives a good idea of how it will feel for your baby or toddler. It shouldn’t feel hot or cold.
Bath time. Many scald accidents happen when a child gets into the bath before it’s ready, play with the hot tap when they’re in the bath or lean over to pick out a toy and fall in. Bath water can cause such bad burns that children need years of treatment and may be scarred for life. Staying with your child all the time when they’re in the bath time means you can keep them safe and also share some quality time.
Thermostatic mixing valves (TMVs) are a great invention. They control the temperature of the hot tap so that you can have a nice hot bath but they stop children being scalded within seconds. Some newer houses and flats have TMVs on the taps already, but you can get them installed by a professional.
The living room
Here’s where the toddlers take over. A living room can be full of surprises – exciting things to grab for and places to explore. Even if your baby has just started to crawl, you’d be surprised at the things they can reach.
Hot drinks are something to watch out for here. Choose a high shelf to put your mug on, rather than a low coffee table. If you need a relaxing cup of tea, ask someone else to hold the baby while you put your feet up, or put the baby in their own chair.
Heaters and fires. Dancing flames can be appealing to babies and toddlers. A fire guard can stop them getting to the fire and reaching for or falling into the flames.
Irons. Irons will stay hot after they’re unplugged. Even older children could make a mistake and touch a hot iron. it is always safest to put it away – out of reach and out of sight after you’ve used it.
Barbecues and bonfires can be a worry for parents. But with the right supervision, children can enjoy the fun without being at risk.
Barbecues stay hot for a long time, even when all the food has gone. Disposable barbecues can be tipped into a bucket of cold water to help them cool quicker, while children are kept out of the way!
Bonfires are fascinating for children. Even though they usually only happen once a year it’s best to teach children to stay a safe distance from the fire and supervise them carefully.
Fireworks are understandably a worry for parents, especially in autumn when many people have bonfire parties and fireworks nights. See our fireworks page for more information.
Top tips for parents
- Look for safe zones in your house where you know your child can’t reach your hot drink.
- Put your straighteners in a heat-proof pouch or on a high shelf to cool.
- When running a bath, put cold water in first and top up with hot.
- Push your kettle to the back of the worktop and use the back rings of your cooker first
Download our fact sheet for more top tips.
Some safety equipment can also help in preventing burns and scalds. For instance:
- Fireguards. Prevent young children from crawling, walking or falling onto fires.
- Heatproof bags for hair straighteners. They keep the burning hot straighteners away from young children’s feet and fingers.
- Thermostatic mixing valves (TMVs) on bath taps. They mix hot and cold water to a safe temperature before it comes out of the tap. You should encourage landlords and housing providers to have them fitted.
What to do in an emergency
COOL, CALL, COVER
COOL for 20 minutes under cool running water, CALL 999 OR 111 or your GP for advice, COVER the burn loosely with cling film.
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