Burns and scalds

Children under five are at significant risk of death, disability and serious injury from unintentional injury. Public Health England makes a strong argument to focus on tackling the leading, preventable causes of death and serious long-term harm. 

Burns and scalds are one of five principal causes of serious injuries for the under-fives in England. Here we look in more detail at the issue and the steps local authorities and their partners can take.

The scale and nature of the problem

Burns and scalds are the fourth highest cause of hospital admissions for under-fives, though deaths are rare. Twelve percent of burns and scalds admissions are for more than three days, compared with an average of 5% for all unintentional injuries. These injuries are expensive to treat and serious burns and scalds are disfiguring and disabling for young children. 

The peak age for hospital admissions is one year, with hot drinks causing the most injuries, followed by scalds from pots and pans and from hot bath water. 

The risks come from five main sources:

  • Scalds from hot drinks lead to moderate numbers of admissions, though with longer than average hospitalisations.
  • Contact with hot household appliances cover a range of hazards. In recent years the number of children being treated for burns from hair straighteners has doubled. They now account for up to one in ten burns injuries to children.
  • Contact with other hot fluids including water heated on a stove remains a serious hazard.
  • Burns from hot heating appliances including radiators and pipes.
  • Bath water scalds lead to relatively low numbers of admissions. Deaths are rare but the injuries can be severe. They result in a higher proportion of long hospital stays: 21% of admissions are for over three days. Bath water scalds are very expensive injuries to treat.

The links with child development

As with most accidents for babies and young children, burn and scalds are related to exploratory behaviour and increased mobility. Babies are also at high risk of serious injury because their skin is very thin – an adult’s skin is fifteen times thicker.

Health inequalities

Children living in the most disadvantaged areas have a 50% higher risk of suffering burns and scalds resulting in primary or secondary care attendance than those in the most advantaged areas.

Action by local authorities and their partners

PHE shows that injury prevention does not require major new investment – much can be achieved by co-ordinating existing services and programmes, building on strengths and developing capacity. Support and training for the early years workforce is key. 

Injury prevention initiatives can include work with housing providers to fit thermostatic mixing valves to bath taps, home safety equipment schemes that supply and fit fire guards, the provision of heat-proof pouches for hair straighteners, and educational campaigns and resources on burns and scalds prevention.

Support from CAPT

CAPT worked closely with PHE to develop the resources and is now offering local authorities evidence-based support for effective action. This includes an opportunity to talk through the PHE guidance and explore local prevention opportunities. To find out more, contact Kevin Lowe on 020 7608 7363.

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Updated September 2014