How the burn injury happened

This section covers:

  • Circumstances of a burn
  • Remembering what happened
  • Talking to others about how the burn injury happened

Triggering Content
This website includes people describing details of burn injuries. Some people might find reading about these experiences distressing.

Around 250,000 people sustain a burn injury each year in the UK (National Burn Care Review Committee, 2001). Most people will experience a minor burn, such as by touching a hot surface, within their life. However, burn injuries can be serious and even life-threatening.

There are lots of different ways that a burn can happen, including fire, scalds from hot liquids, electrical burns, contact with a hot surface, and chemical burns. We spoke to people who were burnt in various ways, including spilled cups of tea, road traffic collisions, house fires, and cooking accidents.

Circumstances of a burn

Many burns happen in the home, particularly in the kitchen. William, Michael, Marilyn, and Sarah were all burnt whilst they were cooking. William was scalded by boiling water that spilled whilst he was cooking pasta. Sarah’s clothes and hair caught fire from the hob when she was cooking in the kitchen. Rhian, Abi, and Jasmine’s daughter, were burnt by cups of hot drinks. Haydn sustained chemical burns when drain cleaning fluid splashed onto his face whilst he was cleaning a sink.

Marilyn’s daughter accidentally spilt hot fat over Marilyn’s arm whilst they were cooking together.

Childhood burns, particularly scalds, are some of the most common childhood accidents. Holly and Simon’s son was burnt on his back when a hot dummy case accidentally touched him. Sinead’s daughter, Elizabeth, was six months old when she sustained burns over her entire body after a faulty air conditioning unit caught fire.

Kate was burnt when she was 13 months old, after accidentally pulling the kettle over herself.

Chris X’s daughter burnt the palm of her hand when she touched a hot electric hob.

Saffron and India were both burnt when their clothes caught alight from a gas fire. Rafaella’s clothes caught fire from a candle.

India was wearing a party dress which caught fire from a nearby gas fire.

Burn injuries can be caused by other people, both accidentally and intentionally. Most of the people we spoke to had experienced accidental burns, but one person had an intentional burn. Acid burns are a type of intentional burn injury, though none of our participants had experienced this specific type of burn.

Accidents at work caused burns for some of the people we interviewed. Jeff was burnt whilst he was working on a building site, an electricity supply should have been shut off, he told us, but it wasn’t and this resulted in an explosion.

Remembering what happened

Sometimes people have very vivid memories of their burn happening, but sometimes, if a person was burnt a long time ago, it may be difficult for them to remember exactly what happened. Other times, the shock of what happened may make it different to remember. They may rely on information they have been told by family, friends, healthcare professionals, and other people who were there when the burn happened.

Claire was 3 years old when she reached for a pan filled with hot oil and accidentally spilled it over herself.

Sabrina was burnt when the holiday apartment she was staying in had an electrical fault and caught fire.

Justyn was one year old when he accidentally spilled a bucket of hot water over himself. As he was so young when he was burnt, he doesn’t have any memories from that time. Justyn also believes that the trauma he experienced “might have blocked out a lot of things in my mind”.

Raiche was 18 months old when she was burnt in a house fire.

Catherine’s son was burnt after he touched a hot BBQ.

Helen X, who was burnt as an adult, told us she has “no recollection whatsoever” about being burnt. She was told by a clinical psychologist that because she had been through a major trauma, her brain “just didn’t make a memory”.

Helen Y had an epileptic fit whilst she was pouring boiling water for a hot water bottle. Her memory about the accident is fragmented.

Sometimes a burn is so severe that a person may fall unconscious or be placed into an induced coma by doctors in order to help with pain relief or fight off infection. Some people we spoke to woke up days, weeks, and even months after they were first burnt.

Gary was burnt after he was involved in a road traffic collision. He spent six weeks in an induced coma.

Talking to others about how the burn injury happened

Telling other people about how a burn injury happened could be difficult. Some of the people we talked to felt it was important to explain what had happened and raise awareness.

It could be upsetting recalling the circumstances of a burn injury. For this reason, some people preferred not to say much about what had happened to them or to their child. Sometimes they couldn’t say much because there were ongoing legal investigations and restrictions.

Haydn, who had a chemical burn when cleaning a drain, hopes others might learn from what happened to him if they are ever in the same situation.

People we talked to had found that others would sometimes ask questions or make comments. Others’ reactions could be hard to deal with, including if they were shocked or judgemental.

Chris Y’s son was burnt by boiling water. He’s found that other people have been “questioning” when he’s told them what happened.

A burns surgeon explains what TBSA means and how burns practitioners work out how large a burn is.

A burns surgeon explains the difference between first, second, and third-degree burns.


You can read more here about other people’s reactions to burn injuries.

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Burn injuries

Trigger warning This website includes people describing details of burn injuries. Some people might find reading about these experiences distressing. In this section you can...