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Falling Clothes Irons Rarely Cause Burn Injuries

Monday, October 22, 2012: 10:45 AM
Versailles Ballroom (Hilton Riverside)
David Allasio, L.M.S.W., Social Work, Children's Hospital of Michigan, Detroit, MI and Christina Shanti, M.D., General Surgery, Children's Hospital of Michigan, Detroit, MI

Purpose

We treat approximately 15 pediatric contact burns annually related to clothes irons. About 3 of these burns involve the face, torso, and extremities leaving well demarcated burn patterns. The history given by caregivers is usually one where the child had pulled the cord left dangling from an iron placed on an ironing board or high on a shelf. We set out to evaluate the plausability of the patterns of burn injuries as a result of falling irons.

Methods

The average child sustaining burns from falling irons was 15 months. An average 15 month old is 31.5 inches tall, has a head circumference of 18.25 inches and weighs 23 lbs. A 30-inch-tall doll with a head circumference of 16.25 inches was selected for the study and the different body parts were filled with cement, achieving a weight of 19.75 lbs. A standard ironing board is 36 inches high, and standard linen closet shelves are 60 and 72 inches high. A shelving unit was built with shelf heights of 36, 60, and 72 inches. Three irons were selected: light (1 lb 7 0z), medium (2 lbs 2 oz), and heavy (3 lbs 2 oz). Each iron fall was tested from the three different height shelves and from three different positions: Heat plate (HP) facing back, left, and right. Multiple trial runs were conducted to determine the optimal distance of the doll from the shelving unit which would result in contact with falling iron.

 
                      36 inch shelf                 60 inch shelf                 72 inch shelf         
Light iron 14 inches 34 inches 32 inches
Medium iron 18.5 inches 33 inches 31 inches
Heavy iron 20.5 inches 30 inches 30 inches

Two video cameras were positioned by an experienced videographer on either side of the shelving unit. Ten falls per iron per position per shelf were videotaped for a total of 270 falls.

Results

270 falls were videotaped and reviewed in slow motion. The flat HP of the iron never touched the doll. Of the 270 falls, the edge of the HP contacted the doll on 9 occasions only. That is an overall incidence of 3.3%.

 
36 in shelf/3 positions 60 in shelf/3 positions 72 in shelf/3 positions
Light iron              4/30 contacts (13.3%)              - 1/30 contacts (3.3%)
Medium iron               -              -               -
Heavy iron 2/30 contacts (6.5%)              -               -

Conclusion

This study demonstrates that it is very unlikely for a falling iron to contact a toddler-sized doll, and when it does, it is the edge of the HP that does. When caregivers provide such history to explain a well-demarcated flat HP burn, it should be investigated for non-accidental injury. We recommend a thorough physical examination for other signs of abuse, a skeletal survey to assess for other acute and remote injuries, and referral to Child Protective Services should be made.