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Making Microwave Ovens Safer For Children: New Regulations Approved

Microwaves Safer For Kids

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Key Takeaways

  • Children are at risk of serious burns from microwaved contents.
  • New child safety doors are to be fitted on all new microwaves beginning March 2023.

Severe scalds in children as young as 18 months old have sparked a dedicated effort from researchers to initiate a change in manufacturing standards for microwave ovens.

As part of a series of studies by a research team in Illinois, it was found that 9% of pediatric burns unit patients had received their injuries from removing hot contents from a microwave themselves, and subsequently spilling it on their body. Almost half of these cases were severe enough to require surgery for skin grafting.

Research team member Dr. Kyran Quinlan, MD, says, "The microwave door between your toddler and the scalding hot liquids inside is easily opened by your 2-year-old. Because microwaves never feel hot, this may be a blind spot in 'child-proofing' a home."

The research team has been working tirelessly for 15 years to change manufacturing laws for microwaves and has finally succeeded.

From March 2023, all microwaves manufactured for the US market must have child-resistant door mechanisms installed.

Dr. Kyran Quinlan, MD, MPH

A microwave within reach should be considered a real burn hazard to young children.

— Dr. Kyran Quinlan, MD, MPH

Child-resistant microwave doors will provide passive protection for young children. Currently, parents and carers of young children must provide active protection by monitoring their children and keeping them away from danger.

Despite the vigilance of most parents, it only takes a second for a child to make an innocent move that ends in injury.

Dr. Amy Baxter, MD, recalls her time in an emergency department seeing a young child rushed in with severe burns to her torso. "I remember…a child transported via ambulance with a horizontal and vertical burn across her chest," says Baxter. "She'd [dropped] soup that had spilled straight down from a paper bowl, then puddled in folds of her shirt."

Pre-packaged soups are one of the most common sources of microwave-related scald burns in children. However, any hot liquid (212 degrees F or 100 degrees C or higher) only needs to be in contact with the skin for 15-20 seconds to cause second-degree burns, and 80 seconds to cause third-degree burns.

Baxter explains that when hot liquid pools in the folds of clothing, the heat spends longer in contact with the skin and can create deeper burns.

"Child-resistant microwave doors are coming in two years," says Quinlan, "but until then, a microwave within reach should be considered a real burn hazard to young children."

What’s Changing?

Two Distinct Actions 

Researchers studied children aged 15 months to 4 years to assess their ability to open different style microwave doors. Children as young as 17 months old were able to easily open both push- and pull-style single-action microwave doors.

Therefore the new safety mechanism will require two distinct actions in order to release the microwave door. To help explain what is meant by "two distinct actions," Quinlan asks people to think of the "push and turn" action required of child safety caps that come on many pill and chemical bottles.

Although this exact action won’t work for microwaves, something equally challenging for young children must be designed by microwave manufacturing companies. These exact mechanism designs are at the discretion of microwave manufacturers, so they may differ between machines.

Optional Release

There will be an option to disengage the child-safety door function, since some adults may not have the functional ability to negotiate a child-proof door.

People who experience arthritis or other conditions that limit the motor function of their hands may be challenged by the child-resistant mechanisms. "Working with the microwave makers, we agreed that we did not want this change to solve one problem while creating another," explains Quinlan. "The idea was to make [disengaging the protective mechanism] possible, but not too easy. So that families would need to truly mean to disable it."

Warning Labels

Under the new regulations, warning labels must also be attached to microwaves advising parents against allowing children to use the appliance. It also warns that contents will be hot and may cause severe burns.

Anti-Slip Design

For microwave designs with a pull function handle, manufacturers must consider an anti-slip design. When discussing new regulations, "we agreed on ensuring that microwaves will not be able to slip easily with the pull forces that would likely be possible from a young child," Quinlan says. "This was to help protect young children from pulling the entire unit over onto themselves."

Where to Go From Here?

Manufacturers must have these safety mechanisms rolled out by March 2023, but Quinlan hopes to see some manufacturers begin production earlier than that. "It is my hope that this coming change will raise awareness of the severe scald risk among families with young children, and that microwave makers will find that ‘safety sells,'" she says.

What This Means For you

While we wait for this change, it is important to remember that serious burns can occur with microwaved contents. Keep your microwave out of reach of your child, or if you can’t, treat it like other hot items around the home and encourage your young child not to touch it.
For more information on keeping kids safe around the home, head to SafeKidsWorldwide and HomeSafetyCouncil.

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Article Sources
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