Burn and Scald Prevention, Children Ages One to Four Years

Each year in New York State, over 500 children ages one to four years are hospitalized and 2,055 children in this age group are treated and released from hospital emergency departments because of injuries caused by scalds and other hot objects. Injuries caused by scalds and other hot objects are the second leading cause of injury-related hospitalizations for children ages one to four in NYS. Children ages one to four have the highest rate of hospitalizations for these types of injuries. Children under the age of four are among those most at risk for injuries caused by scalds and other hot objects.

The good news is that you, as a parent or caregiver, can play a major role in preventing contact burns and scalds.

What laws related to the prevention of scalds and burns are important for me to know?

All consumer fireworks, including sparklers, firecrackers, bottle rockets, and even glow-worms/snakes (charcoal-colored sulphur worms that "grow" when ignited) are illegal in NYS. Consumer fireworks cause injuries most often to the hands, eyes, head, face, and ears. More than half of these injuries are burns.

What are the major types and causes of burns?

  • Scalds are caused by contact with "wet heat" such as hot liquids, bath water, steam, hot foods, drinks or cooking liquids.
  • Contact Burns are burns that occur when a child's skin touches hot metals (such as a stove, heating device or a curling iron) or flames (such as the fireplace).
  • Chemical Burns are burns which result from swallowing chemicals, like drain cleaner, or spilling chemicals, such as bleach, onto the skin.
  • Electrical Burns are burns caused by such actions as biting on electrical cords or sticking fingers or objects in electrical outlets.
  • Sunburns are inflammation (swelling) of the skin caused by too much exposure to the sun.

What is the most common type of burn for young children?

Scalds are the most common type of burn received by children under age five.

What causes scalds?

Scalds often happen in the kitchen or room where food is prepared. Contact with hot tap water in bathtubs or showers or with steam from microwaved items causes scalds.

What type of injuries do burns cause?

  • Burns can range from mild to life-threatening.
  • Both burns and scalds are painful and can require years of treatment, cause scars, and even death.
  • Burns damage the skin which provides primary protection against infection. Because of this, infections from burns are a major cause of illness and death for children with burns.

Why are young children at risk for burns?

  • Children have thinner skin than adults so they burn more quickly.
  • Children do not have control over their surroundings. They do not understand the need to stay away from hot items and often cannot escape from an unsafe situation. For example, one and two-year olds can often reach the counter or stove and pull hot food onto them.

What is the most dangerous room for my child?

The kitchen is the most dangerous room for young children. It is best to keep children out of the kitchen when preparing meals. If your child must be in the kitchen, keep him/her in a quiet area where he/she can play safely under adult supervision (such as a playpen or safely strapped into a high chair). This area should be away from the traffic path between the stove and the sink. Teach your children to stay away from the stove. Put tape on the floor to create a three foot area around the stove so older children can easily see the "no-kid-zone".

How can I keep my child safe when I am cooking or serving food?

  • Never leave food unattended on a stove when cooking.
  • Never carry a child and hot liquids at the same time.
  • Turn pot handles inward and out of a child's reach.
  • Use only the rear stove burners when possible.
  • Install a stove guard (a device that provides a plastic shield in front of the stove's burners) to prevent your child from touching hot burners.
  • Do not place hot food and liquids on counters, table edges, or low coffee or end tables where younger children can reach them. During meals, place hot liquids and foods in the middle, not near the edge, of the table.
  • Use non-slip placemats instead of tablecloths when serving hot foods or drinks. This will help prevent children from pulling on them and spilling hot items.
  • Microwave ovens (microwaves) heat foods and liquids to a very high temperature and heat foods unevenly. Burns can result from spills, splashes and steam.
  • Place microwaves at a safe height so your child cannot reach into it.

How can I keep my child safe from scalds while in the bathroom?

  • Constant adult supervision of young children is the most important factor in preventing tap water scalds in the bathroom. Never leave children alone in bathtub or in the bathroom while the tub is filling.
  • Run the cold water first when filling the tub. Do not let your child play with water faucets while bathing. In the bathtub, face your child an arm's length away from faucets so he or she cannot reach them.
  • Test the water temperature before placing children in heated water using a thermometer or an open hand or elbow. Make sure the child's bathwater is not warmer than 100 degrees.
  • To prevent most tap water scald injuries, the temperature-regulating thermostat or control on water heaters should be set to a temperature no higher than 110°F.
  • Anti-scald devices can be installed on water faucets and shower heads in apartment buildings or multi-family dwellings where tenants cannot lower the water heater temperature. These devices prevent water that is hotter than 110 degrees from coming out of the faucet.

How can I prevent burns from electrical and heating sources?

  • Do not allow your child to crawl or walk alone around stoves, candles, wall or floor heaters, fireplaces, outdoor grills or other hot appliances.
  • Install plastic safety plugs in unused electrical outlets to prevent children from inserting metal objects which can cause electrical burns.
  • Unplug electrical cords of appliances that get hot (such as hair dryers and irons) when not in use. Store their cords out of the reach of children. Do not use exposed extension cords.

Where can I find more information about prevention of scalds and burns?