Valve keeps kids out of hot water

U. NOTTINGHAM (UK) — A valve fitted to pipes to regulate water temperature should be the rule—not the exception. Researchers say it dramatically reduces the risk children will be scalded by bath water.

A recent study found that UK homes with a thermostatic mixer valve had bath water temperatures that were up to 11 degrees Celsius cooler than those without and their baths were within the recommended temperature of 46 degrees Celsius.

The researchers are now calling for social and private landlords to commit to providing thermostatic mixing valves (TMVs) as standard in their properties, plumbers to fit them as good practice to all replacement baths, and a change in the law to make them a requirement in home refurbishments as well as new builds.

They believe that other vulnerable people such as the elderly or those with disabilities could also benefit from TMVs to reduce their risk of hot water burns.

“Figures show that every year emergency departments in the UK see around 2,000 cases of bath water scalds, most of which occur in children, and these result in about 500 children being admitted to hospital,” says Denise Kendrick, study leaders and a professor in the division of primary care at the University of Nottingham.

Admissions mostly occur in children under the age of five years and often involve prolonged inpatient stays and transfer to a specialist hospital or burns unit. There also can be longer-term effects, including disability, disfigurement, or psychological damage.

“Children from disadvantaged areas and younger children are at greatest risk of scalding. Burns most commonly happen when a child falls or climbs into the bath unsupervised or turns on a hot tap or a parent puts a child into water which is too hot,” says Kendrick.

“Home water heater thermostats are frequently set at 60 degrees Celsius or above, which can cause a full thickness burn in an adult in 5 seconds and more quickly in children.”

TMVs—not to be confused with less precise mixer taps—are fitted across bath hot and cold water pipes and set the hot tap at a fixed temperature without affecting the temperature of stored hot water or interfering with heating systems.

Building regulations in the UK were recently updated to require TMVs be fitted into new build properties, extensions, and conversions. However, the Nottingham study is the first of its kind to test TMVs effectiveness and suitability in the home and on a population at a higher risk of scalding.

The study recruited more than 120 families with children aged under five living in Glasgow Housing Association (GHA)—one of the UK’s biggest social housing providers. The participants were split into two groups, one of which received an educational leaflet on bath safety, including the true story of a two-year-old who was scalded by hot bath water, and a TMV set at a maximum temperature of 45 degrees Celsius fitted by a qualified plumber from City Building LLP (Glasgow).

Before the start of the study, both groups had their bath hot tap water temperature measured, and these were measured again three and 12 months after TMVs were fitted. Families were also asked to provide feedback on their satisfaction with their bath water temperature and, in those with a TMV fitted, their views on the valve, fitting process and whether they would recommend it to a friend.

The study found that in the homes of families in disadvantaged communities, TMVs and accompanying educational leaflets were effective in reducing bath water temperature to the current recommended “safe” level for at least 12 months after installation.

Cost is often cited as an argument against fitting TMVs, and the researchers are now conducting a full economic evaluation of the study to establish whether this has any basis in fact.

The current study is based on independent research commissioned and funded by the Policy Research Programme in the UK’s Department of Health.

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