A story regarding a scalding incident that resulted in loss of life has recently resurfaced on national media. Sadly, a woman was severely scalded when using a shower in her hotel room and she subsequently died from her related injuries
Regrettably, this is not an isolated incident and severe scalding incidents continue to occur on a regular basis. Data on hospital patient care activity –published every year by NHS England– shows that there were 718 admissions from contact with hot tap-water in the year 2015-16, up from 672 in the previous year. Despite similar numbers of admissions for the past seven years, the most worrying statistic is that almost half of these incidents affected children up to the age of 14. Unfortunately, it is young children who, along with the elderly, are the most vulnerable to severe injury because they have thinner and more sensitive skin. The severity of injury that contact with hot water can give should not be underestimated: water temperatures of 60 degrees can cause third-degree burns in only five seconds of contact with the skin of an adult.
There is no doubt temperature control is necessary to avoid catastrophic accidents like this one. The most effective way of achieving this is by using thermostatic mixing valves (TMVs). TMVs are located within or near the sink, bath or shower units and are designed to accurately control water temperature by mixing hot and cold water to produce the required blend and maintain it at the user-selected or pre-determined safe temperature. The control is carried out by a thermally sensitive mechanism within the valve, which also plays a crucial role in preventing scalds by avoiding sudden increases in water temperature. This is achieved by shutting down the flow of hot water in instances where cold water pressure unexpectedly drops. The use of TMVs reduces the hot water discharge temperatures to between 37 – 46°C, therefore drastically reducing the chance of scalding.
The importance of this safety feature has long been realised by the Department of Health (DH). The Health Technical Memorandum (HTM) 04-01 –Safe water in healthcare premises– was published in 2006 and requires the use of Type 3 TMVs in all UK care establishments (e.g. hospitals, nursing homes and care homes), in all areas where patients and visitors may have access to. Type 3 refers to TMVs with superior thermal performance, which are subjected to strict third-party testing to ensure the requirements of HTM 04-01 are met along with associated performance specification D08. This is carried out under the TMV3 certification scheme currently managed by Buildcert. Such stringent requirements clearly reflect the DH’s intent to provide the highest safety and protection levels possible from hot water in healthcare premises.
Although general commercial facility owners do not need to consider the greater vulnerability of hospital patients, they do need to ensure all necessary steps are taken to prevent people using their facility from being injured. This is known as the ‘duty of care’, which requires a risk assessment to be carried out to establish how susceptible people are to any dangers, such as scalding, existing within the building and initiating appropriate measures to minimise the risk within the building. Even if no specific recommendations or requirements have been identified in the risk assessment, suggested best practice is for TMVs to be installed in all buildings. Taking such positive action will help to minimise the risk of scalding to building users and help building owners meet their duty of care obligations.
Beama encourages all hotel and wider commercial facility owners to review their duty of care and associated risk assessments to make sure that tragic events like this do not happen again. Further information, guidance and frequently asked questions about TMVs and related topics are available in the Water Safety and Hygiene group section at www.beama.org.uk.