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Safe as houses?

Throughout the Covid-19 imposed lockdown, we’ve all viewed our homes as the safest place to be. However, according to the latest figures from NHS Digital, in the last year the number of heating system related burns and tap water scalds has taken a sharp rise. With the government encouraging us to stay at home, and the heating season upon us, this week’s National Burn Awareness Day on 14 October is highlighting the hidden dangers in our homes.

According to the latest NHS Digital Hospital Episode Statistics for England (2019-2020):

  • Admissions for burn injuries caused via contact with heating appliances, radiators and pipes rose by 25% from 797 (2018-2019) to 999 admissions (2019-2020).
  • Likewise, finished consultant episodes for heating burns were up by 24% from 838 to 1042 over the same period.
  • A staggering 878 - nearly 88% - of heating appliance burn admissions were emergencies.
  • Children aged 0-14 made up 28% of finished consultant episodes, while those over 70 made up 36%. If you combine these figures, nearly 65% of burns from heating appliances afflicted children and the elderly.  

 

Sadly, it’s all too easy for radiators, towel warmers and central heating pipes to reach temperatures high enough to cause a burn if touched. A burn injury is for life with scars that are physical as well as psychological. Burns often result in life-long challenges for the individual and their families, making it all the more tragic that the majority of injuries occur as a result of an accident that could have been prevented. 

With us all having to spend more time at home, the risk of becoming a burn or scald statistic this winter is rising. Worryingly, the peril of scalds from hot tap water has grown also: 

  • Admissions from scald injuries from taps has increased by nearly 9% from 635 cases (2018-2019) to 693 cases (2019-2020).
  • In turn, finished consultant episodes grew from 648 to 714 over the same period, a rise of 10%.
  • Alarmingly 561 admissions - nearly 81% - were classed as emergencies. 
  • And sadly yet again, children and the elderly are the most at risk, with children in the 0-14 age range accounting for nearly 38% of finished consultant episodes and the over 70’s accounting for nearly 21%. These numbers combined account for 59% of scalds from taps.

 

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) has been warning of the dangers for years, with their own statistics showing hot bath water responsible for the highest number of fatal and severe scalding injuries among young children. RoSPA figures also show that the elderly are five times more at risk of a fatal burn or scald injury than the general population. Medical professionals count bath water scalds among the worst injuries anyone can suffer, with scalding injuries every bit as painful and destructive as burns suffered by victims of fires or explosions. 

Kevin Wellman, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE) said, “Recognising it is vital we spend more time indoors to halt the spread of coronavirus, it’s never been more important that householders - especially those with the elderly, disabled or young people - know the risks posed by contact burns and scalding. Heating season is upon us, so now is the time to take action to ensure your heating and hot water systems are safe.”

The good news is there is much you can do to help safeguard your home:

1) Consider installing low surface temperature radiators or radiator covers if you have particularly vulnerable people within your household.

2) Ensure any pipework that reaches high temperatures is inaccessible to young children or vulnerable householders. 

3) When filling up the bath, always run the cold water tap before you turn on the hot tap.

4) Installation of Thermostatic Mixing Valves (TMVs) will greatly reduce the risk of scalds, as the devices mix water to a safe controlled temperature at the outlet. Remember to have your TMVs (and your plumbing and heating systems) regularly serviced. Also, upgrade your shower to a model that includes a built-in TMV.

5) If you are concerned about any exposed elements of your heating system, or the temperature of the water from your taps, call in a professional plumbing and heating engineer for guidance on ways to improve the safety in your home. To find a vetted professional in your area visit www.ciphe.org.uk, call 01708 472791 or email info@ciphe.org.uk

Kevin continued, “This year’s NHS Digital Hospital Episode Statistics for England show the most vulnerable in society continue to be at a grave risk from household scalds and burns. However, a lack of legislation and general knowledge around burns awareness continues to hinder efforts to eliminate avoidable injuries.

“While it is a legal requirement that baths in new-build homes have a TMV installed, it is not a requirement in older properties. This National Burn Awareness Day the CIPHE is urging the Government to extend the legislation to make their use compulsory in all homes and to ensure that all those working on plumbing and heating systems are qualified and competent to do so.”

You can find out more on scalding and general water safety at www.ciphe.org.uk/safe-water