Shabbat urn burns scar children for life


More than two dozen children from strictly Orthodox London families have been treated for serious burns from Shabbat water urns over the past two years.

The children, mostly aged between five and 10, required skin grafts to repair the damage caused by the scalding hot water splashing from the urns, which hold up to 45 litres.

Niall Martin, a consultant at Chelmsford Regional Burn Centre - serving the south-east of England - said the burns covered up to 20 per cent of the body.

He added that when children were brought in on a weekend with serious burns, he and his colleagues could "almost predict the history" behind the incident.

Mr Martin said the urns were "kept at 70 to 80 degrees and fixed to any solid area. Children being children, they play and trip over the cable, or make their own hot drink and pull on the tap.

There's a need to find a different way to have hot water

"Because it's unstable, the urn tips forward and the kid gets covered in a large volume of scalding water."

The consequences for patients were life-changing. "The burns are deep and inevitably require skin grafts. That means at least five days in hospital and a surgical procedure where we take skin from elsewhere for the graft.

"And the smaller the child, the more it tends to fall over their head and body.

"So, with younger children, it results in extensive, permanent scarring, often on visible places, which will affect them for the rest of their lives."

It could also affect "confidence, their ability to get undressed in front of fellow students at school - and for young girls, burns on the chest can affect breast development".

Urging parents to exercise greater care, Mr Martin said that if the urn "is on a narrow work-space, or the wires are draped across cabinets - or even over the floor as they were in one case - it's very simple to tidy up and secure the urn, which should reduce the risk to a minimum."

Echoing these sentiments, Stamford Hill community leader Rabbi Abraham Pinter said that "unquestionably, there's a need to find a different way to have hot water throughout Shabbat".

Community ambulance service Hatzola publishes an annual pamphlet on health and safety.

Its last edition contained a warning that "large Shabbos kettles can tip over if not in a safe place, out of children's reach.

"A burn from a Shabbos kettle is one of the most horrific kind of burns and involves hospitalisation."

The number of hospital admissions did not shock one strictly Orthodox mother from the Stamford Hill community.

"I've known people to suffer burns on Shabbat and it's almost always children," she said. "It's a very, very serious problem."

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