Slips, Falls, Burns: The Dangers of Bathing

National Bath Safety Month focuses on bathing safety

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

Many people don't think twice about safety when taking a bath or shower, but dangers may lurk in the bathroom. National Bath Safety Month aims to raise awareness about those dangers.

January is National Bath Safety Month — a good time to take a look at your bathroom with an eye toward keeping your family safe.

Slippery floors, excessively hot water, bath mats that bunch or skid and electrical risks can lurk in any bathroom. Here's how to make the bathroom a safer place.

Preventing a Tumble

Falls are one of the most serious risks in the bathroom. This is especially true for seniors — but anyone can fall in a wet, slippery tub or when there’s water on the floor. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that as many as 30 percent of people who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries like cuts, fractures and head injuries.

"The most common injury in the bath tub or shower is related slips and falls. Avoid this by using a bath mat and careful supervision," said Bridget Boyd, MD, a pediatrician and child safety expert at Loyola University Health System.

Grab bars can stabilize someone who is a little unsteady or provide extra support to sit and stand. One Canadian study reported in Technology and Disability evaluated grab bar placement in the bath.

The authors of this study found that multiple grab bars — horizontal and vertical bars at each end, with a horizontal bar in the middle and a slanted bar on the end nearest the faucets — were the best choice for acceptance, comfort, ease of use, overall helpfulness, safety and overall preference.

Water is often splashed and spilled in the bathroom. Flooring such as tile and slick surfaces in a bathtub or shower can increase the risk of a fall, especially when wet.

To protect yourself or family members from falls:

  • Install grab bars at strategic points in the tub, shower and by the toilet.
  • Use bathmats with nonskid backing.
  • Place a rubber mat in the bottom of the tub or shower.
  • Take time to check your bathmats this month and replace them if the backing has eroded.

Ouch, That's Hot

Older adults and children can be sensitive to water that is too hot. They can also be badly burned.

"Water heaters should be set at a temperature of 120 F in order to avoid burns. At higher temperatures, children can sustain significant burns in a matter of seconds," Dr. Boyd told dailyRx News. "Ideal bath temperature is warm but not hot, usually a temperature around 93-95 F is comfortable. Be sure to test water before placing the child in the bath."

An older adult may be less able to tell if water is too hot just by feeling the water.

If possible, adjust your water heater to ensure the water coming from the tap is not too hot. If your water heater is not adjustable or you live in housing where you cannot control the water temperature, consider an anti-scald device that attaches to the faucet.

Children may play with faucets while bathing. Always supervise younger children during bath-time activities.

Drowning Is Preventable

Even a few inches of water can pose significant drowning risks, particularly to people who lose consciousness.

Never leave a small child or infant unattended in a bathtub. When bathing an infant, always hold the child’s head well above the water.

"Small children can drown, even in water as deep as a few inches," Dr. Boyd said. "Close supervision by an adult is key to safety at bath time. Bath seats are not safe. Never leave children alone."

Shockingly Safe

Water is an excellent conductor of electricity — so it can pose a serious risk in a bathroom, especially when small electrical devices are involved. Keep devices like curling irons, hair dryers and portable heaters well away from the tub, shower or wet sink.

Check cords often to ensure they do not become frayed, which can increase the risk of electrical shock.

Other Safety Measures

Adults who live alone should consider having a phone in the bathroom to make an emergency call in case of a fall.

Remember that makeshift bath aids can be dangerous. Using the shower door for balance, for instance, is not as safe as using a grab bar.

If you use a bath stool, make sure it's sturdy, with rubber feet to prevent skidding.

Review Date: 
January 6, 2015