Cold Weather is a Good Reminder of Heating Pad and Electric Blanket Safety

Dec 11, 2014

As the artic air blew into town this week I found myself thinking about electric blankets and heating pads. When it is freezing cold outside, nothing is better than being warm in bed under a pile of blankets. And for many people, heating pads are used year-round for comfort. Heating pads can help increase circulation, reduce pain, and make sleep possible for individuals dealing with chronic or short-term pain. Many of us have relatives or friends who swear by their heating pads and electric blankets. But along with their benefits, both devices are capable of posing serious and unexpected dangers. For example, both heating pads and electric blankets are capable of creating fire hazards if they are not properly manufactured. Users should also be mindful of the potential of both heating pads and electric blankets to cause severe burns. Many people assume that because heating pads are therapeutic, they do not reach temperatures that can cause severe burns. In fact, many people think that the worst burn a person can get from a heating pad is similar to a sunburn. Unfortunately, this is not true. First, some heating pads are defective, or not properly manufactured. As a result, they reach temperatures beyond those that are safe and beyond those that are intended by users.

Second, even if the thermostat from a heating pad is functioning properly, users can experience severe burns if the heating pad is turned on and left in contact with the skin for an extended period of time. In response to this danger, responsible manufacturers of heating pads install timers that shut the power off after a set amount of time. Although this can be frustrating to users, it is a life-saving feature that also prevents severe burns. Our office has represented clients who received severe third degree burns from using heating pads that did not have an automatic shut-off feature. If the heating pad does not have an automatic shut off, it is capable of cooking an unsuspecting user in the same way a crock-pot roasts a piece of meat. In fact, the burns that result from extended exposure to relatively low heat can be every bit as bad as burns that result from shorter exposure to open flames.

Unfortunately, many of the characteristics of heating pad users increase the danger. For example, a large number of heating pad burn victims are elderly, use prescription medication, or have decreased sensitivity. This can increase the danger that a user will fall asleep while using the pad and fail to wake up or to realize that they are being burned. Heating pad manufacturers often include warnings, directing users not to fall asleep while using the pads, or to only use them while standing up. These warnings sound nice, but they are unrealistic. The manufacturers know what everyone else does – people use heating pads while sitting or laying down, and the sleep that comes with pain relief is one of the reasons people use heating pads to begin with. Instead of unrealistic warnings, these devices should be designed and manufactured to keep people safe. Although risks may still exist, there are two ways to lessen the dangers of heating pad burns. First, make certain that any heating pad being used by you or your loved ones has an automatic shut-off timer. You may have a stubborn loved one who complains about this feature, but insist upon it. The inconvenience of having to restart the heating pad is minimal compared with a life-altering burn injury. Second, consider non-electric heating pads, such as those that are warmed in the microwave. In addition to eliminating the fire risk, these types of heating pads also lessen the risk of burns caused by defective wiring or over-exposure.

If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of a fire or burns related to heating pads or electric blankets, please give us a call. There is simply no excuse for manufacturing or selling a heating pad without a timer, or a heating pad or electric blanket that was poorly made and creates a fire hazard. I hate to see these cases, because the injuries and damages are always heartbreaking. But the only way to prevent future injuries is to hold irresponsible manufacturers and retailers responsible for the injuries they cause. The dangers of these devices are well known to manufactures and retailers, but often surprise consumers. Responsible manufacturers and retailers take the proper steps to reduce the dangers involved with heating pads and electric blankets. The only way to encourage those who lag behind is to hold them responsible for their actions.