KUALA LUMPUR: WITH a reported 265,000 childhood deaths every year worldwide caused by fire-related incidents, The World Health Organisation (WHO) has categorised burns as a global public health problem.
WHO also reported that more than half the deaths take place in Southeast Asia, with most of the cases happening in low- and middle-income countries. Non-fatal burn injuries are a leading cause of morbidity, with fire-related injuries occurring mainly in the home and workplace.
In Malaysia, statistics have shown that a child dies every two weeks from fire and burn injuries, and 54 per cent of respondents in a survey have reported incidents of burns and scalds at home.
With the level of fire safety awareness still wanting, the Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Ministry engaged Safe Kids Malaysia Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) to conduct a pilot study on fire safety involving 640 parents of children aged between 7 and 12 years.
The study, conducted last year, discovered that only one in three parents consistently taught their kids about fire safety and only 11 per cent of parents reported that schools frequently taught fire safety education.
It also found out that 6.4 per cent of parents reported a fire in their homes in the past two years.
Based on the study, a pilot project, Safe Kids At Home: Preventing Fire and Burns, was rolled out in March in nine primary schools in Sentul, Kuala Lumpur.
The schools are SK Seri Delima, SK Bandar Baru Sentul, SK Sentul 1, SK Kiaramas, SJK (T) Segambut, SJK (T) Fletcher, SJK (T) Sentul, SJK (C) Chung Kwok and SJK (C) Sentul Pasar.
The six-month project, in partnership with the Fire and Rescue Department, is expected to benefit some 6,000 students by the time it is completed.
Deputy Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Halimah Mohamed Sadique said the lack of awareness of the importance of fire safety among Malaysian children was alarming.
“In 2016, the Fire and Rescue Department conducted 5,251 fire safety awareness talks and 6,089 fire drills to educate society on the importance of this matter,” she said.
The initiatives, she said, would be followed by more programmes by the Fire and Rescue Department to keep children safe from preventable injuries, namely burns and fire.
Malaysia is the first country in Southeast Asia selected for the programme after China and India.
“I hope the programme, which started in Sentul, will eventually be scaled up and reach more children in more areas over time.
“One day, we will cover the entire nation,” she said.
Safe Kids Malaysia UPM executive director Associate Professor Dr Kulanthayan K.C. Mani hoped more children would benefit from the programme in the future.
“There is clearly a need to educate children and encourage more parents to reinforce key safety messages at home.
“Parents may expect their kids to be educated on fire safety awareness in school, but that may not always be the case,” he said.
“Based on the study, we found out that there is a critical need for fire and burn education for children,” he told the New Sunday Times.
The programme, he said, went specifically into the aspect of education in fire and burns prevention for children.
According to WHO, burns were the 11th leading cause of death of children aged 1 to 9, and were also the fifth most common cause of non-fatal childhood injuries. While a major risk was improper adult supervision, a considerable number of burn injuries in children resulted from child maltreatment.
Another risk factor for burns was the socio-economic aspect, namely poverty, overcrowding and lack of proper safety measures.
Kulanthayan said children from low- and middle-income families were more susceptible to burn injuries due to lack of space.
“People in this socio-economic group are typically confined to a tight living space, where the kitchen is located quite close to other parts of the house.
“In some cases, children even end up playing in the kitchen, where they have access to a water heater, iron, rice cooker and other kitchenware.”
For the study, Kulanthayan led a team of experts to conduct the first-ever fire and burn survey in the country to measure the level of awareness of preventable burn injuries and deaths among children.
The study found out that 51 per cent of parents were worried that their children were likely to suffer from a burn or scald at home than any other injury.
“Parents play a pivotal role in preventing fire and burn injuries at home,” he said.
The top five most common causes of burn injuries at home, he said, included touching a hot utensil (24.4 per cent), hot iron (21.7 per cent), hot water heater (17.2 per cent), having close contact with motorcycle exhaust pipes (16.7 per cent) and burning firecrackers (14.4 per cent).
“A child touching a hot wok in the kitchen stove may only be treated for a mild injury.
“However, the child is susceptible to second- or third-degree burns when the wok overturns and spills its hot content,” he said.
The study was done in collaboration with the Fire and Rescue Department, the Education Ministry, United States-based Safe Kids Worldwide and Honeywell Hometown Solutions.
Honeywell Asean president Brian Greer said the programme followed the successful model that had reached three million students in 20 cities in China.
It was expected to reach 325,000 students and 175,000 parents in India by year’s end.
“We hope the students will take home what they learned in schools. When they grow up, they will be more proactive in educating their own children about fire and burn safety,” said Greer.
The module, he said, included exercises at home, which the children were required to complete with their parents.
“For example, they have to speak to their parents and map out the fire escape plan to learn how to exit the house in the event of fire.
“More people had died from smoke-related deaths than the fire. Fire victims are often trapped in hallways and in places where they tried to seek a way out.”