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Burns and Scalds

Definition of Burns and Scalds

A burn is an injury to the skin or other organic tissue primarily caused by heat or due to radiation, radioactivity, electricity, friction or contact with chemicals.1

A scald is a type of burn when hot liquids destroy some or all of the cells in the skin or other tissues.1

Impact of Burns and Scalds in WA

Who does it impact?

In Western Australia between 2015 and 2019 there were:2

  • 5,755 hospitalisations due to burns and scalds.
  • 62.9% of hospitalisations for burns and scalds were males.
  • people aged 25-44 had the highest incidence of burns and scalds.

In Western Australia Aboriginal people make up 3.1% of the population, however between 2011 and 2015 16.2% of burns and scalds hospitalisations were Aboriginal people.2,3

Where does it occur?

In Western Australia, between 2015 and 2019, the three regions with the greatest difference in hospitalisation rate compared to the WA State hospitalisation rate, were the Kimberley (286% higher), Midwest (63% higher) and Goldfields (57% higher).

Impact on health system

In Western Australia in 2019, there were 1,307 hospitalisations for burns and scalds, consuming an estimated 6,263 bed days at an approximate cost of $12,846,798.2

Determinants of Burns and Scalds

Environmental Hazards

Houses have a number of burns hazards, which increase the risk of a burn injury. These hazards include hot water, hot drinks, ovens, cook tops, kettles, irons, heaters, open fires, matches, chemicals and electrical outlets.4

There are a number of electrical hazards around the home that can cause electrical burns such as electric fires, electric blankets, kettles, irons and faulty power boards.1


An individual’s risk of burns and scalds can be increased due to their occupation. This increased risk is specific to each occupation, for example there is a higher risk of scalds among hospitality workers, electrical burns among electricians and tar burns among builders.1

Income and socioeconomic status

Socioeconomic status is associated with an increased risk of a burn injury.4 These socioeconomic status factors include ethnicity (non-Caucasian), low income, single parents, low literacy, low maternal education, unemployment, poor living conditions and overcrowding.4

Effective Interventions

Smoke alarm legislation

The instillation and active use of smoke alarms in homes play a vital role in reducing the number of deaths and injuries associated with residential fires.5

Western Australian example: Under Western Australia’s Building Regulations 2012, homeowners are required to install smoke alarms; prior to the sale or transfer of ownership, where a dwelling is rented under a residential tenancy agreement and where a dwelling is made available for hire.6

Installation and maintenance of smoke alarms campaigns

Campaigns and community initiatives that advocate for smoke alarms to be; installed in areas that will not set off false alarms, tested monthly, maintained yearly and powered to the mains of the house where possible, are all important in the prevention of burns and scalds.

Western Australian example: The Department of Fire and Emergency Services of Western Australia run a number of awareness raising activities and provide a suite of information regarding smoke alarm installation, maintenance and legislations.

Fire skills training

Training for children around appropriate fire safe behaviours, how to react in an emergency and what actions to take when a fire breaks, is important to increasing children’s knowledge of fire safety skills.

Western Australian example: The Department of Fire and Emergency Services of Western Australia run a variety of campaigns/programs that target school-aged young people and communities at risk. Further information about how to get involved in these activities is available on their website.

Organisations and programs in WA

Injury Matters Burns and Scalds Resources

Other Resources

AIHW, Injury in Australia: burns and other thermal causes

AIHW, Hospitalised burn injuries Australia 2013 – 2014

Kidsafe WA, Burns and Scalds Childhood Injury Bulletin 

WHO, A plan for burn prevention and care

WA Department of Health, Injury Prevention in Western Australia: A Review of Statewide Activity for Selected Injury Areas

WA Department of Health, Incidence and costs of injury in WA in 2012


  1. World Health Organization. Burns. WHO (2018).
  2. Data generated using HealthTracks Reporting, by the Epidemiology Branch, WA Department of Health in collaboration with the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRC-SI), March 2021.
  3. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016, ‘Western Australia, People’, viewed 5 September 2017,
  4. Department of Health, Western Australia. Burn Injury Model of Care. (2009).
  5. Gilbert, S. W. Estimating Smoke Alarm Effectiveness in Homes. Fire Technol 57, 1497–1516 (2021).
  6. Government of Western Australia, Department of Justice. Building Regulations 2012. (2021).

Find out more

Injury Matters acknowledges and respects the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the custodians of the land on which we work, live and build our lives, families, and communities. We pay our respects to the First Nations People of this country, their cultures and Elders past, present and emerging.

Injury Matters strives to be culturally sensitive as we represent the Western Australian community in our imagery. Please be advised that our website or resources may contain images, videos, or voices of people who have since passed away.

If any material causes concern, please contact us on (08) 6166 7688.

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