Children are most likely to be exposed to poisonous substances or materials in the home. Parents, carers and grandparents can take precautions to prevent children from eating, drinking or being exposed to poisons. Adult supervision of children and safe storage of poisons can prevent children being poisoned.
Preventing childhood poisoning requires the safe storage of potentially poisonous products and the appropriate supervision of children by their parents and adult carers. Be aware that many household substances commonly used by adults are poisonous to children.
Children often develop at a faster pace than parents expect, so poisons previously out of reach can suddenly become accessible as children learn how to climb, open cupboards etc. Around the age of one to two years, children become more independent and more interested in their environment. As they move around, they pick up items and place them in their mouth.
It is easy for parents and carers to underestimate the ability of young children to reach medicines or chemicals. Poisonings often occur when a child’s routine or environment changes. This is the time that children may explore different houses or even visitors’ handbags.
Be aware that:
- Many common household substances used by adults are poisonous to children.
- If you carry medicines in your bag, never leave the bag in reach of a child.
- Poisons (including medicines, cleaning products and pesticides) should be kept in a locked cupboard that children cannot open.
- Children develop quickly and can be unpredictable, so adult supervision is required to keep them safe.
- Adults may overestimate a child’s ability to understand safety messages. Telling a child a product is dangerous is not enough to protect them from poisoning.
Common poisons in the home
Many common household products are poisonous, including drain cleaners, oven or grill cleaners, washing machine powder, dishwasher machine powder and over-the-counter and prescription medicines.
The five most common causes of serious accidental poisoning of young children are:
- Medicines (including painkillers, antidepressants and blood pressure medication)
- Dishwashing powder, oven or grill cleaners and drain cleaners
- Petrol, turpentine and weedkillers
- Eucalyptus oil and other essential oils.
High-risk times for child poisoning
Children are most likely to get hold of medicines or poisons:
- When these are being used
- When these are left out to use later
- When the child’s routine is changed, such as when visiting someone’s home or when moving house.
How to poison-proof your home
To prevent child poisoning in the home:
- Keep all medicines out of reach of children. This includes all painkillers, cough and cold remedies, antidepressants, and diabetes and blood pressure medications.
- If you carry medicines in your handbag, ensure the bag is kept out of reach of children.
- Lock poisons away in a cupboard that children cannot open.
- Store poisons out of reach and out of sight, including those stored in the refrigerator, particularly if it is a brightly coloured liquid.
- Don’t underestimate a child’s ability to climb and reach things.
- Check the child-resistant cap is working on medicine and cleaning containers.
- Avoid taking medicines in front of your children (they may think you are having something nice and copy you).
- Never refer to medicines as ‘lollies’.
- Always keep your dishwasher door locked.
- Don’t leave paintbrushes to soak in mineral turpentine within your child’s reach.
- Keep your own and visitors’ handbags out of your child’s reach.
- Never transfer chemicals or cleaning products to another container, especially food or drink containers.
Where to get help
- In an emergency, always call triple zero (000)
- Your doctor
- The emergency department of your nearest hospital
- Victorian Poisons Information Centre Tel. 13 11 26 – for advice about what to do when poisoning or suspected poisoning occurs, mistakes with medicines, bites and stings etc and poisoning prevention information (24 hours, 7 days)
- Royal Children’s Hospital Safety Centre Tel. (03) 9345 5085
- Kidsafe – Child Accident Prevention Foundation of Australia (Victoria) Tel. (03) 9251 7725
Things to remember
- Most child poisonings happen when medicines or chemicals are being used or are left out after use.
- It is easy for parents and carers to underestimate the ability of young children to reach medicines or chemicals.
- Keep all poisons, especially things you use every day, such as medicines, drain cleaners, oven or grill cleaners, bleach, and dishwasher machine powder, well out of reach.
- Don’t take medicines in front of your children as they may try to copy you.
You might also be interested in:
- Abdominal pain in children.
- Child poisoning in the home - symptoms and treatment.
- Child poisoning in the home - prevention.
- Child safety - at home.
- Child safety - reducing injuries.
- Choking - children.
- Emergencies - who to call in a crisis.
- Lead poisoning.
- Pesticides - home safety issues.
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Department of Health
Fact sheet currently being reviewed.
Last reviewed: September 2011
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Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your qualified health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residence and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a qualified health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.
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