Pa Patient Saf Advis 2009 Mar;6(1):36.
Data Snapshot: Iatrogenic Burn Injuries

Data Snapshot

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal1 led Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority analysts to query the PA-PSRS database for burn reports submitted in 2007.* The search was designed to yield reports of actual or proximal harm to the patient by burns, singes, or sparks occurring in the healthcare facility that reported the burn. Reports involving events before the patient received care at the reporting facility were not considered. Also excluded were reports of events involving cigarettes, candles, and other flammable items not usually found in a healthcare setting.

There were 224 reports of burns, two-thirds of which were thermal in nature. More than half the submitted burns were reported to have been caused by instruments or devices used in procedures, including cautery units, light sources, and cords for these devices. Nine percent of the reported burns were attributed to therapeutic heat sources, such as heating pads or hot packs; a further 5% were reported following magnetic resonance imaging procedures. Almost 14% of reported burns were attributed to food preparation or distribution. These reports include hot liquid spills and handling hot containers.

Table. Causes and Types of Burns Submitted to PA-PSRS in 2007 ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​
CauseChemicalElectricalMechanicalRadiationThermalUnknown/UnstatedTotal% Of Total
Procedural instrument/device0145098011752.2%
Cautery device653 59
Device cord113 14
Light source6 6
Other instrument7526 38
Secondary to procedure1510212205022.3%
Heat therapy20 20
Magnetic resonance imaging burn92 11
Solution14 14
Other1121 5
Food31 31


Overall, reports of burns account for 0.11% of all reports submitted to the Authority in 2007. Based on additional figures from the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council, an estimated 11.9 burns occur per 100,000 admissions in Pennsylvania.2

* 2007 was selected for comparison against data obtained from the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council, for which 2007 was the last full year of available admission data at the time of publication.


  1. Landro L. In just a flash, simple surgery can turn deadly Wall St J [online]. 2009 Feb 18 [cited 2009 Feb 18]. Available from Internet:
  2. Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council. Statewide report [20071-20074 online]. [cited 2009 Feb 18]. Available from Internet:

The Pennsylvania Patient Safety Advisory may be reprinted and distributed without restriction, provided it is printed or distributed in its entirety and without alteration. Individual articles may be reprinted in their entirety and without alteration, provided the source is clearly attributed.

Current and previous issues are available online at