Managing burn risks from radiators and pipework in care homes

In the 12 months to March 2020, there were over a thousand hospital admissions in England due to burn injuries caused through contact with heating appliances, radiators and pipework, with almost 400 involving people over 70. For care home managers, it is essential that they’re aware of the issues and the best practice solutions. Low surface temperature (LST) radiator guards and pre-formed pipe boxing are simple, cost-effective ways to mitigate the risks, while providing consistent, practical and aesthetic results. Pendock’s technical project manager, Gavin Byram, explains more.

Tech-info-Safeheat-3-thermalMany UK care homes are heated by boilers and traditional radiators, with systems operating at temperatures of around 60 to 80°C, while temperatures in hot water system pipework is likely to be above 50°C to control Legionella. HSE guidelines1 indicate that surface temperatures above 43°C present a burn risk and have the potential to lead to serious injuries or even fatalities.

For elderly people, the risks can be greater, especially if they have additional needs or mobility issues and they are unable to act appropriately, or quickly enough, to prevent injury. In some cases, people may be incapable of recognising or reacting to hot surfaces, due to impaired temperature sensitivity, physical disability or mental health issues.

Clearly, this is a key issue for care home owners and managers, to ensure risks can be controlled effectively as part of their duty of care to residents. Sufficient measures must be put in place to remove the likelihood of incidents occurring and avoid potential prosecution or even closure. Indeed, CQC inspections have found residents at risk of burns from radiators and pipework in a number of care homes.

The HSE’s information sheet on hot water and surfaces in health and social care1 suggests incidents often happen in areas where there are low levels of supervision, such as bedrooms, bathrooms and some communal areas. Also, it advises that prolonged contact often occurs because people have fallen and are unable to move or are trapped by furniture.

In situations where an assessment has identified that vulnerable people may come into prolonged contact with hot surfaces, the equipment should be designed or covered so that the maximum accessible surface temperature does not exceed 43°C.  Similarly, Building Regulations guidance in Section 5 of Approved Document M: access to and use of buildings, volume 2 – buildings other than dwellings4 states that any heat emitters in sanitary accommodation are to be either screened or have their exposed surfaces kept at a temperature below 43oC.

LST radiator guards and pre-formed pipe boxing, such as those in the Pendock SafeHeat and Pendock Profiles ranges, help meet the requirements set out in these guidance documents and can provide simple, cost-effective solutions for care homes.

Fitting neatly over existing radiators, Pendock SafeHeat LST guards maintain safe surface temperatures, without affecting the heat output, performance or energy efficiency of the heating system. An optional baffle can also be fitted below the radiator grille to ensure that surface temperatures do not exceed 43°C with a water temperature of 80°C. Pendock products with this feature conform to NHS Estates guidelines and have been tested and approved by the Building Services Research and Information Association (BSRIA).

Lockable access panels allow for routine cleaning, inspection and maintenance, and an antibacterial coating to kill MRSA, Salmonella, E. coli and C. difficile is included as standard on all Pendock radiator guards.

In certain situations, ligature risks will need to be considered in addition to safe surface temperatures. Radiator guards can also be specified with an anti-ligature mesh that sits behind the radiator grille, removing ligature points.

Radiators with sharp edges can also present a hazard for in the case of an accidental fall or if they are used for self-harm. In fact, many of the injuries associated with radiators involve falls, trips and impacts. To help combat this, radiator guards with radiused ‘bullnose’ corners are available, which provide an extra level of safety.

When concealing heating and hot water system pipework, pre-formed and pre-finished pipe boxing can deliver a consistent finish and is designed to unobtrusively blend in with existing décor. Manufactured from pre-formed plywood, it’s simple to fit and is capable of covering horizontal and vertical pipes, as well as pipework routed around corners. If access to pipes is required for routine maintenance, the Pendock Profiles range can be readily removed and refitted or incorporate access panels.

Pipe boxing also helps to protect pipework, as damage to pipes carrying water or gas can have significant consequences, including huge building repair costs and major disruption to care. The pipe boxing’s, flat surfaces, melamine finish and radiused profile make them easy to keep hygienically clean when compared to exposed pipework, which can create a trap for dust and dirt. Completely covering pipework also removes ligature risks.

When selecting LST radiator guards and pipe boxing, care home operators should pay close attention to the quality of the material products are manufactured from, as well as the range of sizes, accessories and specification options available. Also, products at the ‘budget’ end of the market might not be hardwearing or durable enough for use in high traffic areas, such as public corridors and potentially be more susceptible to damage.

Exposed radiators and pipework circulating water at high temperatures creates a burn risk, but the installation of LST radiator guards and pre-formed pipe boxing provide simple, cost-effective solutions for protecting vulnerable people. They ensure safe surface temperatures are maintained while providing an aesthetic finish without affecting the performance or efficiency of heating and hot water systems.