Thermal causes of injury include exposure to smoke, fire and flames as well as contact with hot substances and heat sources, such as hot food and drinks, and household appliances. Burns from bushfires are in this category.

Contact with hot drinks, food, fats and cooking oils was the most common thermal cause of injury. Children under 5, especially boys, were most at risk of serious injury due to thermal causes.

In 2019–20, thermal causes resulted in:

6,000 hospitalisations

24 per 100,000 population

130 deaths

0.5 per 100,000 population

This represents 1.1% of injury hospitalisations and 1.0% of injury deaths.

This page summarises data on unintentional thermal injuries. Intentional injuries and deaths are included under Assault and homicide or Self-harm and suicide.

Causes of thermal injury that lead to hospitalisation

In 2019–20:

  • 3 in 5 hospitalisations due to thermal causes (59%) were from contact with heat and hot substances
  • 2 in 5 hospitalisations due to thermal causes (41%) were from exposure to fire, smoke and flames (Table 1).
Table 1: Causes of thermal injury leading to hospitalisation, 2019–20

Cause

Hospitalisations

%

Rate (per 100,000)

Contact with heat and hot substances (X10–19)

 

 

 

Contact with hot drinks, food, fats and cooking oils (X10)

1,101

18

4.3

Contact with hot fluids that are not hot drinks, food, fats and cooking oils (for example, water boiled on stove and hot tap water) (X11–12)

1,078

18

4.2

Other or unspecified (X13–19)

1,384

23

5.6

Exposure to fire, smoke and flames (X00–09)

 

 

 

Exposure to a controlled or uncontrolled fire (X00–03)

1,120

19

4.3

Other or unspecified (X04–09)

1,363

23

5.2

Total

6,046

100

23.7

Notes

  1. Rates are crude per 100,000 population, calculated using estimated resident population as at 31 December of the relevant year.
  2. Percentages and rates may not equal total due to rounding.
  3. Codes in brackets refer to the ICD-10-AM (11th edition) external cause codes (ACCD 2019).

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.

For more detail, see Data tables B13–14.

Causes of thermal injury that lead to death

In 2019–20:

  • 3 in 4 deaths due to thermal causes (74%) were from exposure to fire, smoke and flames
  • 7% of deaths due to thermal causes were from contact with heat and hot substances (Table 2).
Table 2: Most common thermal causes of injury death, 2019–20

Cause

Deaths

%

Rate (per 100,000)

Exposure to a controlled or uncontrolled fire (X00–03)

78

61

0.3

Other or unspecified exposure to fire, smoke or flames (X04–09)

17

13

0.1

Contact with heat and hot substances (X10–19)

9

7

0.0

Elsewhere classified

24

19

0.1

Total

128

100

0.5

Notes

  1. Rates are crude per 100,000 population, calculated using estimated resident population as at 31 December of the relevant year.
  2. Percentages may not equal total due to rounding.
  3. Codes in brackets refer to the ICD-10 external cause codes (WHO 2011).

Source: AIHW National Mortality Database.

For more detail, see Data tables B19–21.

Seasonality and COVID-19

Hospital admissions due to thermal causes exhibit a seasonal pattern, peaking in winter while decreasing over the warmer months.

In March 2020 the first lockdowns and social distancing measures associated with COVID-19 interrupted the usual activity of Australians. The restrictions to movement and activity do not appear to have markedly impacted thermal injuries.

See the interactive COVID-19 display for data and further discussion about the impact of COVID-19 on hospital admissions.

Figure 1: Hospitalisations due to thermal causes by month, 2017–18 to 2019–20

Notes
1. Months have been standardised to 31 days.
2. A scale up factor has been applied to June admissions to account for cases not yet separated.

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.

Trends over time

The age-standardised rate of hospitalisations due to thermal causes in 2019–20 was 1.9% higher than a year earlier.

Over the period from 2010–11 to 2017–18 there was an average annual decrease of ­1.2%. There is a break in the time series for hospitalisations between 2016–17 and 2017–18 due to a change in data collection methods (see the Technical notes for details).

The average annual increase in rate of deaths due to thermal causes between 2010–11 and 2019–20 was 1.4% (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Thermal injury hospitalisations and deaths, by sex, 2010–11 to 2019–20

The visualisation features 2 matching line graphs on separate tabs, 1 for hospitalisations and 1 for deaths. The 3 lines represent the trend for males, females and persons from 2010–11 to 2019–20 for hospitalisations and deaths. The reader can select to display rate per 100,000 population or number.

For more detail, see Data tables C1–7 and F1–4.

Variation by age and sex

Rates of thermal injury hospitalisation and death differ for males and females, especially for certain age groups.

Among thermal injury cases in 2019–20:

  • almost two thirds of hospitalisations (64%) were for males
  • three quarters of deaths (76%) were for males
  • the age-standardised rates of hospitalisation were 31 per 100,000 males and 17 per 100,000 females
  • the age-standardised rates of death were 0.7 per 100,000 males and 0.2 per 100,000 females
  • children aged under 5 had the highest rate of hospitalisation per 100,000 population (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Thermal injury hospitalisations and deaths, by age group and sex, 2019–20

The visualisation features 2 matching column graphs on separate tabs, 1 for hospitalisations and 1 for deaths. The columns represent sex within 6 life-stage age groups. The reader can select to display either age-specific rate per 100,000 population or number. The default displays males and females and the reader can also select to display persons.

For more detail, see Data tables A1–3 and D1–3.

Severity

There are many ways that the severity, or seriousness, of an injury can be measured. Using available data, three measures of the severity of hospitalised injuries are:

  • number of days in hospital
  • time in an intensive care unit (ICU)
  • time on a ventilator.

The average number of days in hospital for thermal injuries was longer than the average for all injuries, and the percentage of thermal cases that included time in an ICU and/or involved continuous ventilatory support were higher than for hospitalised injuries.

Table 3: Severity of thermal injury hospitalisations, 2019–20

 

Thermal injuries

All injuries

Average number of days in hospital

5.2

4.5

% of cases with time in an ICU

3.4

2.4

% of cases involving continuous ventilatory support

2.1

1.4

Note: Average number of days in hospital (length of stay) includes admissions that are transfers from 1 hospital to another or transfers from 1 admitted care type to another within the same hospital, except where care involves rehabilitation procedures.

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.

For more detail, see Data tables A12–13.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

In 2019–20, among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people:

  • there were 569 hospitalisations (Table 4) and 11 deaths due to thermal causes
  • males were 1.4 times as likely as females to be hospitalised due to thermal causes (age-standardised)
  • thermal injury hospitalisation rates were highest in the 0–4 age group (Figure 3).
Table 4: Number and rate of thermal injury hospitalisations by sex, Indigenous Australians, 2019–20

 

Males

Females

Persons

Number

344

225

569

Rate (per 100,000)

81

53

67

Note: Rates are crude per 100,000 population.

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.

Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians

In 2019–20, Indigenous Australians were 2.9 times as likely as non-Indigenous Australians to be hospitalised due to a thermal injury (Table 4). Deaths are not presented here due to the small number.

Table 5: Age-standardised rates (per 100,000) of thermal injury hospitalisations by Indigenous status and sex, 2019–20

 

Males

Females

Persons

Indigenous Australians

77

54

65

Non-Indigenous Australians

29

16

22

Notes

  1. Rates are age-standardised to the 2001 Australian population (per 100,000).
  2. ‘Non-Indigenous Australians’ excludes cases where Indigenous status is missing or not stated.

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.

The age-specific rate of injury hospitalisations due to thermal causes was highest among the 0–4 age group for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Thermal injury hospitalisations by Indigenous status, by age group and sex, 2019–20

The visualisation features a column graph for hospitalisations. The columns represent data for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians by 6 life-stage age groups. The reader can select to display age-specific rate per 100,000 population or number. The reader can also select to display data for persons, males or females.

For more detail, see Data tables A4–A6 and D4–D8.

Remoteness

In 2019–20, people living in Very remote areas were 5.4 times as likely as people living in Major cities to be hospitalised for a thermal injury (Table 5).

Deaths data are not presented because of small numbers.

Table 6: Age-standardised rates (per 100,000) of thermal injury hospitalisations by remoteness and sex, 2019–20

 

Males

Females

Persons

Major cities

22

14

18

Inner regional

42

17

30

Outer regional

67

32

50

Remote

85

48

67

Very remote

118

71

96

Note: Rates are age-standardised per 100,000 population.

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.

In 2019–20, the age-specific rate for thermal injury hospitalisations by remoteness area was highest for children aged 0–4 living in Very remote areas (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Thermal injury hospitalisations by remoteness, by age group and sex, 2019–20

The visualisation features a column graph for hospitalisations. The columns represent data for each of the 5 remoteness categories by 6 life-stage age groups. The reader can select to display age-specific rate per 100,000 population or number. The reader can also select to display data for persons, males or females.

For more detail, see Data tables A7–A9 and D9–D10.

For information on how statistics by remoteness are calculated, see the Technical notes.

More information

Defining injury hospitalisations and deaths: how injuries were counted

Technical notes: how the data were calculated

Data tables: download the full tables

Glossary