A marked increase in accidents during the COVID-19 epidemic
Over the period 2017-2022, French poison control centres recorded 118 cases of skin disorders among children in community facilities. These accidents most often occurred in nursery schools after toilets had been disinfected with biocidal products. A sharp increase was observed in 2020 and 2021, most likely due to the reinforced disinfection measures during the COVID-19 epidemic, mainly the disinfection of objects such as tables, chairs and toys.
In 2023, new accidents continued to be reported, reflecting the persistence of the problem.
Young girls under six mainly affected
Because their skin is much more fragile, this problem mainly concerns children under six years of age, especially young girls who sit down on the toilet seat.
Although the vast majority of skin disorders were minor, 11 children suffered second-degree burns and one child received a skin graft for a third-degree burn on the buttock.
Improper product use
Accidents were mainly due to errors in the use of disinfectants: a failure to rinse or dilute them, a product that was unsuitable for the purpose, etc.
These errors may have been encouraged by:
- conditions of use for the same product that differ according to the surface being disinfected: for example, a product may be used undiluted on floors but diluted for other surfaces;
- instructions for use that are not made available to the people handling the products;
- confusing wording on labels: for example, "use the ready-to-use solution immediately" for a product that needs diluting.
Six recommendations to limit the risk of accidents involving disinfectants:
- using products that are suitable for the surfaces to be disinfected;
- opting for the least hazardous products, especially in community facilities where there are young children;
- give priority to ready-to-use products to avoid dilution errors, and products with clear, simple instructions for use;
- rinsing products after application or accidental spillage, or at least wiping the surfaces dry;
- not carrying out cleaning and disinfection tasks in the presence of children, and waiting for the specified period after disinfection before allowing children access to the disinfected area;
- training staff in the correct use of disinfectants.
In the event of skin contact: remove any clothing soaked in the product and wash skin thoroughly with water. If the affected area is extensive or if skin lesions appear, see a doctor or call a poison control centre.