Tap Water Burns and Scalds
True Story: Boy Severely Burned in Bathtub
A young boy was severely scalded on the lower half of his body after a caregiver placed him in a bath filled with scalding tap water. The boy was attending an in-home daycare when he had an accident that required cleaning and changing him. The caregiver began preparing a bath for the child, but while she was removing his clothes another child came into the bathroom and adjusted the water temperature to the highest setting. The caregiver put the boy into the bath before checking the temperature. Almost immediately she knew something was wrong and quickly pulled him out, but the damage was already done. The young boy experienced second and third degree burns all over his feet, legs, groin, and buttocks.
Burn and Scald Statistics
Excessively hot tap water injuries and deaths occur every year to people of all ages, which is truly tragic since all of them can be prevented with a few simple adjustments to your hot water heater. The following statistics illustrate how serious a problem these injuries are and why it is so important to take steps to remove this hazard.
- There are approximately 5,000 serious injuries from scalding tap water every year
- 1,400 of these injuries result in overnight stays in a hospital
- These injuries result in 34 deaths
- Tap water burns account for up to 17% of all childhood burns requiring hospitalization
- 85% of these deaths and injuries occur to children under 15 and seniors over 65
- Tap water can reach temperatures of 150 degrees, which can burn adult skin in 2 seconds
Adjusting a Hot Water Heater
Preventing injuries from scalding tap water is simple and only requires adjusting your hot water heater once. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends adjusting all hot water heaters to a maximum temperature of 120° F.
Before adjusting your hot water heater, it is important to test the water coming out of the faucet to determine how hot the water is getting. Most hot water heaters do not have the most accurate dials so it is important to know how high the water temperature is getting before you lower it.
To test your hot water heater temperature:
- Turn on any faucet in your home or place of business
- Let the water run an the hottest setting for at least two minutes
- Fill a large glass container with water
- Check the temperature with a standard kitchen thermometer
- If the temperature is over 120 degrees, adjust your hot water heater.
- Wait at least 24 hours and repeat this process until water is under 120° F.
Electric Water Heaters
Before attempting to adjust an electric hot water heater, contact your local electric company as some will provide this service free of charge or offer suggestions and instructions. If your electric company does not provide this service and you have to do it yourself there are a few important steps to follow. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for adjusting the thermostat and make sure both are adjusted the same. Do not use any hot water at least 2 hours before adjusting. Before making any adjustments turn off power to the hot water heater. Once the power is off you will need to remove the two access panels covering the thermostats (most electric water heaters have two). Once they have been adjusted, wait 24 hours and re-test the water again to make sure the temperature has been lowered correctly.
Gas Water Heaters
Just like electric hot water heaters, it is best to contact your local gas company for instruction prior to adjusting the thermostat. Gas water heaters differ from electric because they only have one temperature control gauge that can either be exposed or concealed behind an access plate. Once you have adjusted the temperature according to the manufacture’s detailed instructions, check your water temperature after 24 hours to determine if the temperature has been lowered correctly.
If your hot water heater is not gas or electric you most likely have an on-line hot water system. To have this temperature lowered you will need to contact your fuel-supplier to have the temperature adjusted.
Other Scald Prevention Tips
Even with an adjusted hot water heater, there is still a risk of scalds so it is important to always be mindful when placing children in contact with hot tap water. The following tips are designed to protect children from scalds while bathing.
- Do not place a child in the bathtub or sink while you are filling it.
- When you begin filling the bathtub or sink, fill it partially with cold water first. This will prevent a child from becoming burned if they accidentally come into contact with the water
- Use your wrist, elbow, or hand to check the water thoroughly before placing a child in the water. If you think it is too hot it most likely is and should be adjusted.
- Mix the water thoroughly before putting a child in since hot spots can form that could burn the child.
- Never bathe children with older children that can accidently turn the water temperature up.
- Always finish by running cold water through the tap to cool it down and prevent a child from being burned by the tap itself.