Aetiology of adult burns treated from 2000 to 2012 in a Swiss University Hospital

Burns. 2016 Jun;42(4):919-25. doi: 10.1016/j.burns.2016.03.005. Epub 2016 Apr 6.


Background: Burns in Switzerland are frequent and lead to high economic and social costs. However, little is known about the aetiology of burns suffered by patients seeking treatment in hospital emergency departments. This knowledge could be used to develop preventive measures.

Methods: This retrospective analysis included all patients (≥16 years old) with acute thermal injuries of known cause admitted to the adult emergency department in Bern University Hospital (Switzerland, not a specialised burns unit) between 2000 and 2012. Clinical and sociodemographic data were extracted from medical records, i.e. the environment in which the burn occurred, as well as details of burn severity and aetiology.

Results: Seven hundred and one (701) patients with a mean age of 35.0±14.5 years (56% men) were included in the analysis. The winter season and the days around Christmas, turn of the year and Swiss National Day were identified as times with high risk of burns. Household (45%) and workplace (31%) were the most common locations/settings in which the burns occurred. Approximately every second burn was caused by scald, every fourth by flame and every seventh by hot objects. The analysis identified cooking, tar and electricity in workplace accidents, barbecues and the use of gasoline as aetiological factors in burns in leisure time, together with water in domestic thermal injuries. Burns occurred predominantly on non-protected skin on the hand and arms. The most severe burns were seen in electrical and flame burns. Men suffered more severe burns than women in all settings except psychopathology.

Conclusions: The data suggest that the incidence and severity of burns in Switzerland could be reduced by preventive strategies and public campaigns, including education on fire protection systems, raising awareness about the times and locations where the risks of burns are greater, further improvement in workplace safety, particularly with cooking facilities and electrical equipment, and the development of innovative safety devices (i.e. machines, protective gloves). These findings have to be interpreted carefully, as this study includes only adult patients who presented in our ED and, in most cases, the burns covered less than 20% of the body surface.

Keywords: Aetiology; Burns; Causes; Gender; Location; Switzerland.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Home / statistics & numerical data
  • Accidents, Occupational / statistics & numerical data
  • Adult
  • Burn Units / statistics & numerical data
  • Burns / epidemiology
  • Burns / etiology*
  • Burns, Electric / epidemiology
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Fires / statistics & numerical data
  • Hospitals, University / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Leisure Activities
  • Length of Stay
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Switzerland / epidemiology
  • Young Adult