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The best way to prevent burns is to keep your child away from fire and hot surfaces, and to keep a close eye on him whenever he’s anywhere near things that can burn.

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Cool a burn under running water for 20 minutes.
 

How to prevent burns

Your child has no way of knowing that an exhaust pipe, a small iron or any other hot surface can hurt and burn, or that hot water can burn in the same way fires can.

Supervision is the only reliable way to prevent accidents with things that burn.

So safety rule number one is to watch your child constantly – especially around stoves, ovens, microwaves, heaters and other appliances.

If your child gets a burn or scald, seek immediate medical help from a doctor, hospital or medical centre if the burn or scald is the size of a 20-cent piece or larger, if the burned skin looks raw, angry or blistered, or if the pain persists or is severe. Call an ambulance if the burn is larger than the size of the child’s hand, or is on the face, neck or genitals. 

Preventing burns indoors

Kitchen
  • Keep children out of the kitchen when you’re cooking. Avoid leaving the kitchen unattended if you’re using pots and pans, toasters, sandwich presses, slow cookers and rice cookers.
  • Turn handles on pots and pans towards the back of the stove.
  • Install a guard around the hot plates on your stove.

Living and family areas

  • Install guards around heaters to discourage children from standing too close.
  • Install a fixed fire guard around any open fires, smouldering ashes, or electric or gas heaters.
  • Save ironing for after your children are asleep. You could also put your children (or yourself!) in a playpen while you iron.
  • Install cool-to-touch heaters.
  • Keep clothes and toys at least 1 m away from heaters.

Bedrooms

  • Buy children close-fitting nightwear and dressing gowns with ‘low fire danger’ labels.
  • Try to keep bedside lamps and light bulbs out of reach, or unplugged, until your child is old enough (about three) to understand that they burn.
  • Avoid electric blankets. Electric blankets that malfunction or that aren’t used properly can cause serious burns. Babies and small children can also overheat if electric blankets are set too high, or if grown-ups forget to turn them off.
  • If you use heaters in your children’s bedrooms, turn the heaters off or to a very low setting once children are in bed. Once children are old enough to get out of bed by themselves, take heaters out of bedrooms.
General
  • Babies and children can be scalded by hot drinks, so let someone else cuddle baby while you have your cuppa. And make sure you put your cup well out of older children’s reach.
  • To guard against accidents with hot water – such as dish water and bathwater – you can turn down your thermostat.
  • Always supervise children carefully around any naked flames, such as open fires, gas burners, incense burners and candles.
  • Lock matches and cigarette lighters up high and out of reach, and always smoke away from children.
Fires can start as a result of cooking accidents, smouldering cigarettes, electrical faults, candles, incense and children playing with lighters and matches. Find out what you can do to prevent house fires. You can also develop and practise a plan in case there’s a fire in your home.

Preventing burns outdoors

You can prevent burns outdoors by being aware of common risks and avoiding them:

  • Keep a close watch on children while your barbecue is heating up, being used or cooling down. Some barbecues can keep their heat for hours. Use water to put out embers and briquettes, and rake ashes so they lose their heat more quickly.
  • Gas heaters commonly used on patios can topple over. 
  • Exhaust pipes, especially on motorbikes, are easy to reach and can cause serious burns. 
  • Seatbelt buckles can become very hot in high temperatures. 
  • Tools such as blow torches and soldering irons should be kept locked away.
  • Lawnmowers retain heat for several minutes after the grass has been cut.
  • Metal playground equipment, especially slides, can get hot enough to burn a child.
  • Campfires left unattended can be a risk. And the embers, coals and ashes can stay hot for up to eight hours after the fire has been buried under dirt or sand. 

Bushfires can be a risk, particularly when people try to outrun them in cars or on foot. Read the Country Fire Authority’s guide to making a bushfire plan if there’s a chance of a bushfire in your area. 

First aid for burns

If you’re not sure how severe a burn is, contact a doctor, hospital or medical centre immediately.

Otherwise, take the following first aid steps:

  1. Make sure the area is safe, and that there’s no further risk of injury. Take the child to a safe place if possible.
  2. Take off the child’s clothing immediately, but only if it’s not stuck to the skin. Remove any watches or jewellery the child is wearing, but only if you can do it without causing any more pain or injury.
  3. Treat the burn with water only. Cool the burned area under running water for 20 minutes. This will reduce tissue damage and pain. This is useful for up to three hours after the burn. Hold the child to provide comfort.
  4. Cover the burn with a loose, light, non-sticky dressing, such as plastic wrap or a clean, wet cloth. Raise burned limbs.

Call an ambulance if:

  • the burn is to the face, airway, hands or genitals
  • the burn is larger than the size of the child’s hand.

Definitely go to a doctor, hospital or medical centre if:

  • the burn or scald is the size of a 20-cent piece or larger
  • the burn is deep, even if the child doesn’t feel any pain
  • the burn looks raw, angry or blistered
  • the pain persists or is severe
  • you’re not sure how bad the burn is.
You might like to check out our illustrated guide to first aid for burns and scalds. You could print it out and stick it up somewhere easy to see.

Things not to do with burns

  • Don’t peel off any clothing that’s stuck to the burn. Don’t break any blisters.
  • Don’t apply ice, iced water, lotions, moisturisers, oil, ointments, creams or powders to the burn. These will only need to be removed to treat the burn properly. Butter or flour can make the damage worse.
  • If the burn is large, don’t cool it for longer than 20 minutes. This is because hypothermia can happen quickly in children.
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  • Last Updated 24-05-2013
  • Last Reviewed 24-05-2013
  • Cassell, E., Clapperton, A., & Ashby, K. (2004). Unintentional burns and scalds in vulnerable populations: The very young and the very old, Victoria July 2001 to June 2003. Hazard, 57(Autumn), 1-17.

    Turner, C., Spinks, A., McClure, R., & Nixon, J. (2004). Community-based interventions for the prevention of burns and scalds in children. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2.