Office of the Fire Commissioner

Issue Date: June 15, 1996
No. SA:020
Safety Advisory - Hazards Association with the Use of Electric Heating Pads

News from U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have received many reports of injury and death from burns, electric shocks, and fires associated with the use of electric heating pads. These incidents have occurred in nursing homes, hospitals, and at home. In most cases, they could have been avoided by careful inspection and proper use of the heating pad.

Every year, the CPSC receives an average of eight death reports associated with the use of heating pads. Most deaths are caused by heating pad fires and involve persons over the age of 65. Heating pad fires can occur when broken or worn insulation of the electric wires in the heating pad causes the pad to ignite or when electrical cords are cracked or frayed.

CPSC estimates that more than 1,600 heating pad burns are treated each year in hospital emergency rooms. Most injuries are direct thermal burns not caused by fire. About 45 percent of those injured are over the age of 65.

An electric heating pad is usually regarded as a relatively "safe" household product commonly used to treat sore muscles or joints; however, it can cause harm if not used properly. A heating pad can be dangerous for patients with decreased temperature sensation, diabetes, spinal cord injuries, patients who have suffered a stroke, patients taking medication for pain or sleeplessness or those who have been drinking alcohol. Prolonged use on one area of the body can cause a severe burn, even when the heating pad is at a low temperature setting.

FDA recognizes that most hospitals today use a circulating hot water pad or a hypo/hyperthermia machine on patients who require such heat therapy. The temperature of these devices is thermostatically controlled, allowing them to be used more safely on a sleeping or unconscious patient when properly supervised by a health professional.

Individuals at particular risk for electric heating pad injuries are:
Infants, since the heating pad would cover a large area of their small bodies. In addition, they may be unable to move when burned.
Persons who may be unable to feel pain to the skin because of advanced age, diabetes, spinal cord injury, or medication.

FDA and CPSC recommend the following precautions be taken to avoid hazards associated with the use of electric heating pads: