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news News Tuesday, November 28, 2017 Wednesday, November 22, 2017 12:29 PM - Wednesday, November 22, 2017 12:29 PM

Be aware of the dangers of glass-fronted gas fireplaces

By Emily Ohrtman, research assistant, Boston-Harvard Burn Injury Model System, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital and Colleen M. Ryan, MD FACS, staff surgeon, Shriners Hospitals for Children — Boston, assoc. prof.of surgery

While beautiful, glass-fronted gas fireplaces can be extremely dangerous, most significantly to children. As young children begin to grow, they learn to move around their environment while still having only minimal strength and balance. Glass fireplaces are at eye level and easy for a curious child to touch. When turned off and fully cooled, this is safe. However, when heated, this glass can reach extremely high temperatures and contact can cause full thickness in less than one second.

Typical stories of these injuries involve families with a toddler moving into a new house, visiting a relative (even grandma!) or caregiver's house, or staying at a hotel or other business that has a glass-fronted gas fireplace. Often the family recognizes that the fire might be dangerous and they shut it off.  However, the glass stays hot much longer than expected. Soon after the fire is turned off, the toddler may begin to explore and place the palm of his or her hands on the glass, sustaining burns to the palm and fingers. Proper first aid would be putting the child's hand under cool running water for 20 minutes and seeking immediate medical care. However, even with this, the burn injury can be significant. Without proper treatment, the child can be at risk for infection and serious life-long deformities to their hands. They may also suffer from profound pain and emotional trauma.

Because of the large number of injuries in relation to glass fireplaces, a task force was created in 2010 to investigate how to effectively treat the growing issue. As part of the task force, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reviewed the data collected by the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) over the previous 10 years. There were over 2,000 glass fireplace burns, but due to the lack of detail in the reports, the CPSC only acknowledged 37. Since the task force was created, other studies have found that the 37 cases the CPSC looked at did not create a full picture of the dangers of glass fireplaces. In fact, the number of injuries due to glass fireplaces is significantly higher and therefore, deserves more education, awareness and safety regulations.

The CPSC review resulted in new safety regulations for glass fireplaces starting in January 2015. While the standards are a step in the right direction, old glass fireplaces were not recalled and the new regulations are only applicable to appliances manufactured after January 2015  It is therefore important to take caution and remember the following tips:

  • Educate all family members and visitors about the dangers of glass fireplaces and warn them that the glass can be extremely hot when in use.
  • Keep an eye on any children, elderly and/or pets near the glass fireplace.
  • If the fireplace has a remote, keep it out of reach of children.
  • Consider installing a switch lock to prevent children from turning on the appliance without permission.
  • After turning off the fireplace, wait for the appliance and the glass to cool down before allowing anyone to go near it. Keep in mind that the cool down process can take an hour or more.
  • Remember to read the manual before use and understand the instructions in order to safely use the fireplace.
  • If you have not already done so, research and invest in a safety screen for your glass fireplace.
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