Too Hot To Handle

Whether it’s a simple sunburn or touching a hot pot on the stove, many of us have experienced minor burns at one time or another. Burns can happen when the skin is exposed to heat (from fire or hot liquids), electricity, corrosive chemicals or radiation. There are hundreds of thousands of burn-related accidents reported every year, but fortunately, the majority of them can been prevented.

Thermal (heat source) burns are the most common, with the majority of these occurring in the kitchen. Although some minor burns aren't cause for concern and can be safely treated at home, other more serious burns require medical care. Ultimately, the type and severity of the burn depends on the number of layers of skin affected. It should also be noted that children in particular are the most at risk for household burns.


Burns can come from a variety of sources, and include:

  • Open flame
  • Scalding (steam, hot liquids, hot foods)
  • Contact (stove element, hot cooking pan, fireplace, curling iron etc.)
  • Electrical burns
  • Radiation burns (sunburn, medical radiation)
  • Chemical burns (batteries, cleaners, solvents etc.)

Types of Burns

Burns are often categorized as first, second, or third-degree, depending on how badly the skin is damaged. This also dictates how the burn should be treated.


First-degree burns, the mildest of the three, are limited to the top layer of skin and produce redness, pain, and minor swelling. The skin will be dry and without blisters.


Second-degree burns are more serious and involve the skin layers beneath the top. These burns can involve blistering, severe pain and redness.


Third-degree burns are the most serious type of burn and involve all the layers of the skin and underlying tissue. In these cases, the skin can range in colour from waxy white, to brown or charred and will appear dry. There is typically little pain experienced initially due to nerve damage.


You can't always avoid injuries from household burns, but these simple precautions can help to reduce the risk.

In the Kitchen

  • Get into the habit of using the back elements on the stove and always turn pot handles in, to help avoid an accidental spill
  • Keep kids out of the kitchen while cooking and serving
  • Never warm baby bottles in a microwave oven, as the liquid may heat unevenly and scald a baby's mouth. Use warm water in a pan to heat bottles instead.
  • Never leave stovetop cooking unattended, especially if using higher heat settings
  • Try to avoid hanging dishtowels on the oven door if you have small children in the house, so that the door can’t easily be pulled open
  • Be aware of loose clothing or long hair when cooking over the stove
  • Use place mats instead of tablecloths so that young children aren’t tempted to pull themselves up and potentially cause a spill
  • Use proper oven mitts rather than a dishtowel to handle hot dishes. Also be sure to keep oven mitts dry, as moisture combined with heat can cause scalds.
  • The most common scald burns from microwaves occur when plastic wraps or lids are removed from heated items. Be sure to remove coverings slowly.
  • Always keep hot foods and liquids away from table and counter edges

In the Bathroom

  • Always test bath water with your elbow or wrist before putting your child into the tub. Also keep them turned away from the tap to avoid any temptation to turn it.
  • Set the hot water heater thermostat to low (120F / 50C)
  • Never leave children alone in the tub
  • Consider installing anti-scald devices in water faucets and showerheads to avoid potential burns

In General

  • Repair or replace appliances or cords that show signs of wear or damage
  • Always keep matches and lighters out of the reach of children
  • If you need to use a humidifier or vaporizer, use a cool-mist model rather than a hot-steam one
  • Never allow smaller children to handle fireworks at any time
  • Store all household cleaners and chemicals in a secure location and out of the reach of children. Be sure to child-roof any cupboards that contain these materials.
  • Keep lit candles away from the edges of tables and only in areas where children can’t reach them. Be sure to extinguish them if you will be out of the room for any length of time.
  • Use baby gates or screens to keep children from getting too close to fireplaces, wood-burning stoves, radiators or electric baseboard heaters
  • Roll up electrical cords and unplug appliances when not in use. Also keep cords out of reach when using items that produce high heat like irons.
  • Cover electrical outlets so that children are unable to insert metal objects, such as forks or keys

First Aid

All burns should be treated quickly to reduce the temperature of the burned area and reduce damage to the skin and underlying tissue (if the burn is severe). Keep a well-stocked first aid kit in your home, but whenever in doubt, contact your local emergency medical services immediately.

For flame burns, extinguish the flames by rolling on the ground and cover with a blanket or jacket. Remove smoldering clothes or any jewelry from the affected area and call for medical assistance.

For scald injuries, remove any wet clothing and run cool water over the area to slow down the burning process. Avoid using home remedies, ice or ointments as these will often make the burn worse. Seek medical attention for more serious burns.

For chemical burns, flush the area with cool running water for 5 minutes or more. If the burned area is large, use a tub, shower or garden hose. Seek medical attention depending on the severity of the burn. Injuries to the eyes or mouth must always be evaluated by medical personnel.

For minor electrical burns, run the area under cool water and cover with sterile gauze. For major injuries, be sure that the electrical source is disconnected and call for immediate emergency medical assistance. Check for vital signs and apply CPR if necessary.

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