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Scalding and burn injuries on the rise this World Plumbing Day

As World Plumbing Day approaches on Monday 11 March, calls are being made for the Government to take action on avoidable scalding and burn injuries. Figures from the Chartered Institute of Plumbing & Heating Engineering (CIPHE) show a worrying rise in the number of incidents, highlighting that developed countries still have problems when it comes to safe water within the home.

According to NHS Hospital Episode Statistics for England, the CIPHE has found that from 2017-2018:

  • 755 finished consultant episodes were allocated to people who were treated in hospital for scalding from taps, up from 713 (nearly 6%) on those admitted the previous year.*
  • 962 finished consultant episodes were allocated for individuals treated for burns caused by contact with heating appliances, radiators and pipes.
  • These types of burns are up from 914 the previous year and 840 the year before, leading to a 14.5% rise in just three years.

 

With people most at risk in their own homes, the rise in cases is a worrying trend, especially as children, the elderly and the disabled are the most vulnerable to injury. In fact, of the 755 finished consultant episodes allocated to scalds from taps last year, a staggering 185 were for children aged under-four. 

To put it in perspective, 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. 

When it comes to plumbing related contact burns the picture is little different, with 178 finished consultant episodes allocated to children under four and 111 finished consultant episodes involving older people between the ages of 85-89. Sadly, age related issues such as dementia are on the rise, going hand in hand with the rise in burns (and scalding) incidents in the older generations.

 

A burn or scald injury is for life 

Through its research, the CIPHE is one of a number of bodies, including the Bathroom Manufacturers Association (BMA) and the Children’s Burns Trust (CBT), concerned at our apparent lack of burns awareness. Not only is it issuing warnings to consumers about the risks that lurk in plain sight in our homes, but it is also calling on Government to do more. 

Scalding is a particularly widespread problem, with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) estimating overall UK scalding figures at some 2,500 cases per year. The Health and Safety Executive states a death rate at around 20 deaths per year.

Kevin Wellman, CEO of the CIPHE said, “The saddest thing about these incidents is that they are nearly always accidental and can be prevented. We need to reduce the risk by raising general awareness of the dangers in our homes, and change legislation to enforce the use of protective devices such as Thermostatic Mixing Valves (TMVs). We also need to ensure that all those working on plumbing and heating systems are qualified and competent to do so. Professional plumbing and heating engineers will always put the safety of their customer first.” 

TMVs blend hot and cold water to a safe controlled temperature at the shower, tap or bidet outlet, significantly reducing the risk of scalding. While it is a legal requirement that baths in new-build homes have a TMV installed, it is not a requirement in older properties. Given the rise in scalding injuries, the CIPHE is urging the Government to extend the legislation to make their use compulsory in all homes.

Kevin warned, “The elderly can be particularly vulnerable to the effects of scalding as they often live alone, in older homes, that feature outdated plumbing technology. If you have an older home, or vulnerable people under your roof, you should consider having a plumbing system health check carried out by a professional plumber to ensure your systems are safe. If you need remedial works, TMVs can cost as little as £30 to buy, and while they must be regularly serviced, it is little price to pay when you look at the life long physical, mental and emotional pain scalding can bring.”

The CIPHE has issued the following advice to help families avoid burns and scalds:

  • When filling up the bath, always run the cold water tap before you turn on the hot tap. 
  • Always test bath / shower water temperature first, before entering, or allowing a child / vulnerable adult to enter.
  • If your home does not have them already, installing 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 system) regularly serviced.
  • Upgrade your shower to a model which includes a built-in TMV.
  • Consider installing low surface temperature radiators or radiator covers if you have particularly vulnerable people within your home. 
  • Ensure heating appliances are out of reach.
  • You may also need to consider insulating any low-level hot pipework.

 

Your local plumbing and heating professional can offer lots of guidance on ways to improve the hot water safety in your home. To find a professional in your area visit www.ciphe.org.uk, call 01708 472791 or email info@ciphe.org.uk. 

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

*Notwithstanding the possibility of better reporting processes the increase is still alarming.