Poisoning: what you need to know
Accidents with poison usually happen at home. They’re very common – almost 40 Australian children a week are admitted to hospitals because of poisoning.
Poisoning accidents are often unexpected. Your child might open a bottle or reach a cupboard you thought was safe. This means you need to be aware and think ahead as your child develops new skills.
It’s important to closely supervise your child whenever household poisons are in use. Close supervision means staying alert and avoiding distractions, so you’re ready to step in.
Many substances around the home are household poisons. Also, a lot of things become poisonous when they’re not used in the way they’re intended. For example, dishwashing powder is harmful if it’s swallowed or gets into eyes.
Medicines can poison too. In fact, they’re the most common cause of poisoning in young children. Almost all medicines are poisonous if taken in large enough doses. This even includes vitamin pills and herbal remedies.
If you think your child has swallowed something poisonous, immediately take the container and the child to the phone and call the Poisons Information Centre on 131 126 for first aid advice – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, Australia wide. If your child needs urgent medical help, call an ambulance – phone 000.
Preventing poisoning: storing medicines, chemicals and cleaning products safely
The first step in preventing poisoning is to store medicines, chemicals and cleaning products up high in a locked cupboard, safely out of reach and out of sight of your child. The cupboard should be at least 1.5 m high and have child-resistant locks.
Here are more things you can to do reduce the risk of poisoning in your home:
- Put child-resistant locks on all cupboards. It’s best to do this before your child starts moving and climbing.
- Lock medicines, chemicals, cleaning products and poisons away in their storage place immediately after you’ve finished with them.
- Leave all medicines, chemicals, cleaning products and poisons in their original containers. For example, don’t put chemicals like detergents, paint thinners and weed killers into empty soft drink or juice bottles.
- Clean out your cupboards regularly. Get rid of unwanted medicines, chemicals, cleaning products and poisons. Rinse empty containers with water before you throw them out or recycle them.
- Explain to your child why it’s important to stay away from medicines, chemicals, cleaning products and poisons. Sometimes curious children can find a way through child-resistant containers or locks.
The chances of childhood poisoning increase when usual household routines are disrupted. For example, you might need to take extra care if your family has recently moved, is on holiday or is visiting friends.
There are different poisoning risks at each new stage of your child’s development, as your child learns to reach and move more. These developmental changes can happen quickly, so planning helps you avoid risks.