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Heaters and burns

Reducing heater burn risks in residential aged care services

24 May 2022

Key points:

  • Hydronic heaters can cause severe burns to aged care service residents
  • Providers are advised to review hydronic heater risks and take appropriate action e.g. move beds away from heaters, install guards to prevent direct contact, monitor heat settings and conduct regular maintenance.

Serious burns incidents from the use of hydronic heaters in residential aged care services are reported to the Commission each year.

As the weather becomes cooler, providers and service staff are reminded to regularly review and check the use of this equipment to ensure the safety and wellbeing of your residents throughout the winter season.

Generally, hydronic heaters are safe, economical and efficient. Often mounted on walls in residents’ rooms, heated water circulates through the heaters to create warmth within the room. However, they do present risks. These include a resident rolling, sliding, or falling onto a heater, or becoming wedged between the heater and the bed. A person who might be unable to move themselves off or away from a heater could lie directly against the heat for some time before staff become aware of this. Other circumstances have related to a bed being placed too close to a heater, and to poor regulation of the temperature of individual heaters.

If you are a residential aged care provider who uses hydronic heaters at your service, it is important that you identify and reduce the associated risks to your residents. These risks can be managed by taking appropriate action, including:

  • conducting regular maintenance on heaters
  • checking the accuracy of temperature settings
  • ensuring beds are positioned away from heaters
  • installing guards to prevent residents from coming into direct contact with a hot surface
  • monitoring heat settings on individual heaters and limiting the maximum temperature.

Conducting regular reviews of the risks associated with each hydronic heater in a service will allow you to identify and manage issues as soon as possible, particularly as risks can change over time – for example, when an existing resident experiences a general decline in their health accompanied by a loss of muscle strength and mobility, or a new resident moves into a room, and/or the arrangement of furniture in a room changes.

Dr Melanie Wroth MB BS, FRACP

Chief Clinical Advisor

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