Keep children safe from electrical burns

An electrical outlet can be a hazard for small children if it is not covered.

A child can suffer an electrical burn very quickly, even when an adult is present, warns ChildSafe, an NGO based at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.

The hospital saw 10 children with electrical burns in the first two months of the year, compared to five during the same period last year.

ChildSafe executive director Yolande Baker says it’s important to be alert to the dangers electrical burns pose to children.

“An electrical burn happens when a child touches or comes into contact with an electric current and when that current passes through the child’s body, it can damage organs and tissues.”

Dr Gary dos Passos, head of the hospital’s burns unit, says they have seen far more electrical injuries than usual.

“This may be related to children spending more time at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Other sources of burns are also of concern. Hot liquids and food accounted for 733 of the 880 burn cases in children the hospital saw last year.

Ms Baker says that most burn injuries can be avoided. “Most of the burns happen in the home, specifically the kitchen and the first step to preventing burns is to make sure that the home environment is safe,” she says.

Parents can start by checking every room in the house for possible burn risks to children.

“Electric shocks from appliances and electrical outlets and cords can burn the skin and cause tissue and nerve damage,” she says.

Electricity can cause different types of skin burns, depending on which skin layers are affected:

• A superficial burn affects the top layer of the skin which is characterised by having your skin red, dry and painful.

• A partial-thickness burn affects the top two layers of the skin and is characterised by the skin being red and leaking fluid and blistering.

• A full-thickness burn affects all the layers of the skin. The burn does not usually hurt because of nerve damage and the skin can be white, grey or black.

Here are a few ChildSafe safety tips that parents and caregivers can follow to keep children safe from all electrical burns.

• Cover unused electrical outlets with safety covers.

• Unplug electrical cords that are not in use, keeping electrical cords, power plugs and electrical equipment away from children.

• Keep electrical appliances away from sinks and bathtubs.

• Turn off electrical equipment that is not being used.

• Teach children to stay away from electrical sub-stations, electrical wires at ground level and electrical fencing.

• Never overload power points or run electrical wires under carpets.

• Never use unsafe or illegal electrical connections.

• Never allow children to play with power points or electrical equipment. Repair faulty plugs and frayed cords immediately.

For more information on injury prevention, call ChildSafe at 021 685 5208 or visit

Frayed electrical cable can put children at risk of electrical burns.