Children at risk of thermal hazards

Readers may recall that in March I entered a post regarding hot water scalds, sharing the vivid memories I still have – 30 years later – of my cousin’s dreadful injuries. Whilst hot water remains a potential and significant source of injury to babies and small children, there are a variety of other thermal hazards which also place these vulnerable members of our community at risk. Some of these hazards are further explored in an article online first in Archives of Disease in Childhood (see

Fire has long been recognised as a source of injury, and 96% of the 200 parents of children aged 0-4 years living in one of four disadvantaged areas in England reported having at least one smoke alarm (although only 95% of these alarms were in working order). An integral part of fire safety – a fire escape plan – was reported by only 42% of parents. In addition, eight in ten parents reported in the interviews that they had either matches or lighters in their home, with nearly a fifth of parents reporting that these were stored where children could reach them.  Injury prevention efforts thus should focus upon encouraging every resident to ensure their home is fitted with smoke alarms which actually work, and the first line of defence should focus upon preventing naturally-curious children from accessing matchers and lighters under any circumstance.

Interestingly the Authors recognise that popular fashion has resulted in a new potential source of thermal hazard in the home: hair straighteners. Seventy percent of parents interviewed reported that they had a hair straightener in their household, and one third of these were used every day. Only 12% of parents interviewed reported placing a hot hair straightener in a heatproof bag when not in use. The prevalence of hair straighteners suggests that targeted injury prevention interventions appear warranted, including the more widespread use of heatproof bags.

Most parents appeared to have a good knowledge of first aid for small burns, but nearly one quarter of parents would respond inappropriately and thus could inadvertently cause further harm to the child. An important part of injury prevention efforts is harm minimisation in the event of injury, therefore it is vital that any efforts educate parents and other caregivers regarding appropriate and effective first aid measures.


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