Tighter Regulations Needed to Prevent Scalds From Taps and Hot Water

A new joint study between the Victorian Adult Burn Service at The Alfred and Monash University has looked at scalds due to hot water from taps, baths, and showers, finding there is room for changes to plumbing regulations across Australia and New Zealand to reduce these preventable injuries.

Using data from the Burns Registry of Australia and New Zealand, the research found that six hundred and fifty people were admitted to a specialist Australian or New Zealand burn service with tap water scalds between 2010 and 2018. More than half these injuries were due to accidental alteration of the water temperature (e.g., knocking the tap while in the shower).

The research also highlights a clear age-related association that differed between Australia and New Zealand, with children under the age of four accounting for almost two thirds of tap water scalds in New Zealand, while a greater proportion of older adults (aged 65 years and above) sustained tap water scalds in Australia.

The findings are now available in Burns.

While scalds from taps, baths, or showers may only account for a small proportion of burn injuries in Australia and New Zealand, they can have devastating consequences.

Ninety-two percent of tap water scalds occurred in the bathroom, with two thirds of patients undergoing a burn wound management procedure in theatre. Moreover, patients admitted with tap water scalds had a longer hospital length of stay, and a higher mortality rate than the wider burn population admitted to burn services.

Since 1996, the Plumbing Code of Australia has contained regulations stipulating the maximum delivery temperature of heated water is 50°C in new Australian homes, or homes with altered hot water systems. In New Zealand, the maximum temperature of heated water used for personal hygiene in new residential houses is 55°C.

Revisions to tap water regulations such as requiring the installation of hot water tempering devices in all residential properties or shifting the placement of tap fixtures would help reduce these preventable scalds from occurring.

Read the full paper in Burns titled * “The home, the bathroom, the taps, and hot water”: The contextual characteristics of tap water scalds in Australia and New Zealand* here.

Please contact corresponding author Yvonne Singer (Y[dot]Singer[at]alfred[dot]org[dot]au) if you are unable to access the article.