National Burns Awareness Week: Be Prepared for an Emergency
Burn injuries happen in seconds, but can change a person’s life forever. It is one of the most common and devastating forms of trauma and have the potential to cause death, lifelong scarring, disfigurement and dysfunction – often resulting in prolonged hospitalisation, stigma and rejection.
In observance of National Burns Awareness Week from 6 – 12 May, Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital encourages the public to be prepared for an emergency. Most people think that it’s not going to happen to them, but being prepared for an emergency can be the best safety tool of all.
Children are naturally curious. As soon as they are mobile, they want to explore their surroundings and play with new objects. This natural learning process means coming into contact with potential burn hazards.
The majority of burns occur in and around the home. Be alert to the presence of potential burn hazards in and around your home:
- Be careful when cooking: keep children out of the kitchen if possible. The kitchen is full of potential fire hazards – food left unsupervised on the stove or in the oven or microwave, grease spills, electrical appliances and dish towels near burners. Hot oil and porridge are particularly hazardous.
- Don’t neglect maintenance: chimneys, fireplaces, and wood or coal stoves should be cleaned often.
- Electrical appliances and cords: make sure your electrical appliances (such as ovens, stoves, heaters, kettles, toasters and irons) are in good condition, without loose or tattered cords or plugs or worn insulation. Do not overload circuits and ensure that there is no direct contact with power lines or other live wires. Use only good-quality paraffin stoves and heaters – they are less likely to explode.
- Kettles: kettles are ‘weapons of mass destruction’. Nearly 70% of all burn admissions at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital can be attributed to this seemingly safe device. Keep kettles and kettle cords out of reach of children.
- Microwaves: be careful of the high temperatures of containers and fluids after used in a microwave. Also steer clear of boiling eggs in a microwave – they often explode on removal and can cause serious facial and eye damage.
- Fire gels: fire gels should be used with caution. Pouring gel fuel into a device that is not completely cool may result in a fire or injury, therefore it should never be poured directly from the container onto flames. Burning fire gel sticks to skin and is difficult to extinguish, causing prolonged burning with severe scarring.
- Cover electrical outlets: Make sure to cover all electrical outlets with outlet covers so that children aren’t tempted to play with them and stick things like fingers or toys into them. Illegal and make-shift electrical wires lead to devastating electric injuries (often leading to finger and hand amputations).
- Be safe if you smoke: lit cigarettes or matches can be an ignition source. Avoid smoking in bed and use child-resistant lighters.
- Use candles safely: Blow out candles before leaving a room and keep them out of reach of children, away from curtains and furniture and make sure that they are in sturdy holders.
- Chemicals: know when the chemicals you use are a potential hazard. Use cabinet locks on cabinets that contain chemicals and always store chemicals in their original containers. Do not store in milk or plastic containers. Beware of hair colourants and chemical hair straightening treatments – it can cause severe chemical burns in children.
- Be prepared: Teach children the hazards of fires and educate them on how to avoid foreseeable dangers. Be prepared for an emergency by creating a fire escape plan with the whole family.
How to create a fire escape plan:
- Make a map of your home
- Plan your escape route by identifying two unobstructed ways out of each room
- Test all doors for evidence of heat before opening them. If you feel heat, do not open it. If the door is not hot and you open it, open it slowly and be prepared to close it again should you see flames or heavy smoke
- Close all doors behind you, this will serve as a firebreak and hinder the spread of fire
- Close room doors to create firebreaks before opening windows
- If your escape route involves an upper level window, be sure to plan a safe way of getting to the ground
- Decide on a safe meeting place that is a safe distance from the house. This is where everyone will meet in the event of a fire
- Practice your escape plan with the entire household often and at different times during the day. Practicing emergency escape plans is crucial to helping you and your family remain calm and confident during an actual emergency
- Plan for everyone in your family, including babies and pets
- Teach children to leave a burning building by crawling under the smoke, and to stop, drop and roll if clothes catch fire
- Should a burn occur, cool the burn under cold tap water for 20 minutes. Make sure that the injured person remains warm and seek medical attention. Do not apply ice, egg, toothpaste, butter or anything else to the burn. Simply cover the wound with clingwrap or a clean sheet and seek medical assistance immediately
The impact of severe burn injuries extends beyond the patients themselves, it also affects the friends and families who love and support them, therefore Western Cape Government Health urges parents and caregivers to be aware of the dangers posed and to take steps to keep their families safe.
- The Burns Unit at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital is the only specialised paediatric Burns Unit within a dedicated children’s hospital in Africa
- Every year the hospital treats approximately 3 500 children for burns (which includes children who are treated in the Burns Outpatient Clinic); approximately 1 300 of these cases are severe burns
- The greatest cause for burns in small children is fluid burns, comprising 84% of burn injuries treated at the hospital
- Children under 6 are more at risk with 85% of burns patients treated being younger than 6 and 50% are children under 2
- Ninety-eight percent of children treated for burns are from disadvantaged communities
- Children’s skin is thinner than adults' and their skin burns at lower temperatures more deeply, making them susceptible to harsher burns with long-term effects
- Support from peers can be incredibly important in helping the patient re-integrate into their community and develop a sense of self-acceptance
- In South Africa, burns is the third most common cause of accidental deaths amongst children under 14 years, exceeded only by motor vehicle accidents and drowning
- Nearly 230 children die from burns in South Africa every year