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Tap Water Scalds
The Grossman Burn Center
Tap water scalds are 100 percent preventable. Tap water scalds, very common among young children, older adults and people with disabilities, are often more severe than cooking related scalds. These high-risk groups are less likely to survive the injury, hospitalization is longer, and recovery more difficult.

Nationwide, tap water scalds result in more inpatient care, generally cover a larger area of the person's body, and end in more fatalities than other types of scalds. Tap water scalds to children usually occur when a child is left unattended in the bathroom for even a brief time, when he or she is placed in water that is too hot, being bathed by an inexperienced caregiver (baby-sitter or older sibling), are in the tub when another child turns on the hot water, or when the child falls into the tub. Tap water scalds to older adults or someone with a disability usually happen when they slip or fall in the tub or shower, a caregiver fails to recognize that the water is too hot, when water temperature fluctuates due to running water in other parts of the home, or a faucet or plumbing fixture malfunctions and the person is unable to escape a sudden burst of scalding water.

The American Burn Association recommends the following simple safety tips to decrease the risk to yourself and those you love from tap water scalds.

  • Adequate and constant supervision is the single most important factor in preventing tap water scalds. Provide constant adult supervision of young children, anyone who may experience difficulty removing themselves from hot water on their own, or people who may not recognize the dangers associated with turning on the hot water. Gather all necessary supplies and keep them within easy reach. If you must leave the bathroom, take the child with you.

  • Fill tub to desired level and turn water off before getting in. Run cool water first, then add hot. Turn hot water off first. This can prevent scalding in the event someone should fall in while the tub is filling. Mix the water thoroughly and check the temperature by moving your elbow, wrist or fingers with spread fingers through the water before allowing someone to get in. The water should feel warm, hot to touch.

  • The safest temperature for bathing is about 100º F / 37ºC.

  • Do not leave the bathroom unattended while the tub is filling.

  • Turn the faucet to the "COLD" position when not in use if the tub has a single faucet handle.

  • Clearly mark the "HOT" water position on faucets.

  • Do not allow young children or a person with a mental disability to adjust the water temperature.

  • When bathing young children, seat the child facing away from faucets and so he or she can not reach the faucet. Turn the faucet to the "COLD" position.

    Set home water heaters no higher than 120º F / 48º C. An easy method to test this is to allow hot water to run for three to five minutes, then test with a candy, meat or water thermometer. Adjust the water heater and wait a full day to allow the temperature to change. Re-test and readjust as needed.

  • Install grab bars and non-slip flooring or mats in tubs or showers if someone is unsteady or weak.

  • Use a shower chair or stool when bathing or showering if standing unassisted is a problem. Provide away to call for help (bell or whistle) for people who may need assistance or may be unable to remove themselves from the tub or shower in case of emergency.

  • Avoid flushing toilets, running water, or using the dish- or clothes-washer while anyone is showering to avoid sudden fluctuations in water temperature.

  • Consider keeping the bathroom door closed when not in use.

  • Reinforce these recommendations with baby-sitters and other care providers.
  • Install anti-scald* devices.

*Thousands of people suffer scald injuries every year due to sudden surges of hot water. Anti-scald devices, anti-scald aerators, and scald guards are heat-sensitive devices that stop or interrupt the flow of water when the temperature reaches a pre-determined temperature (generally 110 to 114 degrees, but before it reaches 120 o F / 48 o C.) and prevent hot water from coming out of the tap before scalding occurs. These devices will not allow the faucet to become fully operational until the water temperature is reduced to a safe level. Some devices allow the resident to preset a comfortable maximum temperature to eliminate the risk of scalding. Whole house anti-scald mixing valves installed in a hot water line are also available.

Anti-scald devices can simply and inexpensively be installed on most existing taps in showers, bathtubs and sinks. These are especially beneficial for people living in multi-family or apartment buildings when the family is unable to lower the temperature of the water heater. Anti-scald devices are available at some local hardware, plumbing and baby stores.

Caution: Each residence (house, apartment, mobile home, RV) has special plumbing needs. It is important to evaluate which type of device is best suited for your own home to protect your family from tap water scalds. It is also important to test the temperature with your hand or elbow.

High Risk Groups - Certain people are at increased risk of tap water scalds, however, anyone can be affected. Those at higher risk include:

infants and children older adults people with disabilities

From the American Burn Association Scald Prevention Campaign 2000

See also:
1. Burn prevention tips for babysitters
2. Food and beverage related scalds
3. Microwave scald prevention
4. Other causes of scald - prevention and pointers

Special gratitude given to:
The Grossman Burn Center

for providing this information!

The Grossman Burn Center
4929 Van Nuys Boulevard
Sherman Oaks, CA 91403

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