Safe heating for vulnerable people

Thankfully, stories about young, elderly or vulnerable people suffering burns from heating systems are pretty rare, but one of the reasons for this is that low surface temperature radiators are increasingly being specified and installed. In houses, homes, commercial premises and public buildings where those most likely to suffer burns from high temperature metal surfaces of uncontrolled heating appliances live or congregate LST radiators are doing a great job. Chris Harvey, Product Manager, for Stelrad Radiators explains.

Many older properties have old radiators providing the heat. Simply looking to replace, in particular pre-2000, radiators will give energy savings that will be measureable when owners see their bills. Modern radiators are made from superior quality steel, have better quality paint finishes, better quality water channels built into the radiators in manufacture and of course, have fins that provide a larger heat surface, ensuring better quality heat from each unit. Just updating elderly radiators may see conservative energy savings of 15%.

These days, most care and nursing homes, sheltered housing schemes, hospitals, doctors and dentists surgeries, schools, nurseries and many public buildings, utilise LSTs (low surface temperature radiators) that meet the requirements of the NHS Guidance for ‘safe hot water and surface temperature’. This guidance requires the surface temperature of radiators not to exceed 43°C, helping to keep elderly and vulnerable people safe from metal surface burns.

When water is in excess of 43°C there is a high risk of burning from a dry surface and scalds from a liquid, and even fatalities to the elderly, people with mental illness or learning disabilities and children who cannot react appropriately or quickly enough to prevent injury. Burns will result if naked skin is held against the hot surface for any length of time. At a water temperature of 70°C, people will receive partial thickness skin burns in approximately 0.7 of one second – and full thickness burns in 10 seconds.

According to the annual Leisure Accident Surveillance System (funded by the Department of Trade and Industry and managed by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) in 2010, 1,970 people were injured in a public building by either a radiator or hot pipework over a 12 month period, while 71% of these accidents occurred in a place of education and all were serious enough to warrant a hospital visit.

Interestingly statistics related to injuries or deaths caused by hot surfaces are difficult to obtain but RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995) does ensure that injuries are, at least, reported. For the period April 2001 to March 2006 RIDDOR statistics identified two fatal incidents and at least five major injuries attributable to burns from hot surfaces in health and social care premises.

Meeting regulations

Regulations for hot surfaces are governed by two major bodies. The NHS covers its own estates and the HSE (Heath and Safety Executive) covers the working environments. The HSE’s job is to prevent people being killed, injured or made ill by work. This covers burning risks from hot surfaces in health and social care.

For the NHS, The NHS Estates Health Guidance Notes – DN4 is the key document. These guidance notes for professionals cover “Safe hot water and surface temperatures”. This booklet was issued following a number of serious accidents, some of which proved fatal. The HSE oversees the relevant legislation which is The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. HSE and Local Authority inspectors enforce these requirements and this covers burning risks from hot surfaces in health and social care – i.e. residential homes. So the health and safety of people who use care services is covered by the general requirements of Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and by the risk assessment requirements of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations. Specific and individual requirements in Scotland and Wales are covered by their own legislation but all to the same effect.

Safe temperature

So what is the safe surface temperature that we are working to? Control measures by the HSE say that the maximum surface temperature of space heating devices should not exceed 43°C, when the system is operating at the maximum design output. This is the temperature which tests have shown to be the safest – such that if someone fell against the LST radiator and was stranded in that position for a very long time, no harm would be done to the skin. It is the same safe temperature required for hot water flowing from taps in public situations. In that case, of course, a thermostatic valve is used to control the temperature.

Specially designed and purpose-built Low Surface Temperature radiators are designed to provide a safe, cool-touch solution to heating a building and this is the most practical way to prevent people from coming into direct contact with hot surfaces.

An LST is an emitter within a specially designed outer case, the surface of which at any point on its surface never gets hotter than 43°C. The case is effectively built around a standard heat emitter. The emitter still radiates and still convects heat and does its job to heat the room but the case gets no hotter than 43°C. Convection plays a very important and safe role. It is the air gap between the emitter and the surface of the case which prevents the metal surface becoming too hot.

A number of models of LSTs are available in the market. Some consist simply of the emitter and its case. Some, for added convenience for the installer, consist of the emitter and its case, plus a built-in or factory fitted thermostatic valve (operated from the top platform of the case) and factory-fitted copper connecting pipes. BSEN442 is the British Standard test for heat output – it requires that water enters and leaves the radiator at definite temperatures. Flow into the radiator will be at 75°C. Return out (from) the radiator will be at 65°C. And the room temperature will be at a steady 20°C.

Installation is usually straightforward and good installers accustomed to fitting standard radiators will have no problems fitting LSTs. Some models are easier than others – depending on their configuration and the state of factory fitted components. A detailed installation guide is available from Stelrad if required.

LSTs are value for money solutions. They are easy to install with tried and tested technology – plumbers know them and they are simple to maintain.