Burns from Plaster Backslabs: Is Current Practice Safe?

Dr Tam Quinn1, Dr Hein Maung1

1Eastern Health, Melbourne, Australia


Introduction:Plaster of Paris can reach temperatures of up to 82.2°C and cause thermal injuries. Factors contributing to high plaster temperatures include plaster thickness, temperature of the dipping water, the use and thickness of padding between skin and plaster, and ventilation of the plaster as it sets
Method:Using a simulated limb, we tested the effects of plaster thickness, thickness of padding, decreased ventilation and water temperature on the temperature of the plaster. We recorded the temperature of the plaster at 5 minutely intervals to find the peak temperature.
Thicker plasters produced higher temperatures than thinner plasters as did a higher temperature of the dipping water. The number of layers of padding did not produce significant differences in the temperature of the plaster. Covering the plaster with blankets caused a small increase in the temperature of the plaster compared to no blankets. The peak temperature at dipping water temperatures of 20°C and 40°C was recorded at 20 minutes, and at 60°C was found to peak at 15 minutes.
We were unable to produce temperatures greater than 52°C for periods greater than 5 minutes which is what has previously been reported as a condition by which burns can occur. However, our results corresponded with previous research in that thicker plasters and higher dipping water temperatures produced higher temperatures. To ensure patient safety, our recommendations are for the minimum thickness of plaster required to be used and dipped in water no greater than 20°C.


Tam is a senior trainee in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery with a long interest in burns following time spent working with the team at the Victorian Adult Burns Service


ANZBA is a not for profit organisation and the peak body for health professionals responsible for the care of the burn injured in Australia and New Zealand. ANZBA encourages higher standards of care through education, performance monitoring and research.

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