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Poisoning - keeping children safe

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Dangerous things are swallowed every day by children, usually when they are at home. Most of the children who swallow poisonous things are under the age of three, when they are too young to know what is safe and what is dangerous.

Labels with words or even pictures will not keep young children safe.

More information

Kidsafe SA 

Raising Children Network 

 In Australia there is a Poisons Information Line where trained staff can provide information about what to do if a child swallows something that might be dangerous. Take the container to the phone and ring the centre on 13 11 26. In other places ring your local poisons centre or hospital.


Contents of this topic

Common poisons

The common poisons that children are exposed to include:


  • The most common medicine that young children need hospital treatment for is paracetamol liquid (often from the bottle that their parents are using to treat them for an illness). For more information about the dangers of paracetamol have a look at the topic 'Using paracetamol or ibuprofen'.
  • Other syrups they might swallow too much of include antibiotics and cough syrups.
  • Other medicines can include tablets that their parents (or grandparents) are taking which have been left in handbags, on low shelves or tables. These can range from the 'pill' to very powerful drugs such as antidepressants and heart tablets.
  • If medicines are in 'child proof' containers, or 'blister' packs, it usually means that taking more than the prescribed amount will be dangerous for a child (even if the medicine has been prescribed for the child). Do not put these medicines into an easier to open container.
  • The 'blister' packs that many tablets come in means it takes longer for a child to get access to many tablets, and they have reduced the numbers of tablets that children swallow.

Call the Poisons Information Line13 11 26 for more information. (Australia)

Cleaning products

  • As well as detergents, cleaners, shampoo, room deodorants, one of the most dangerous poisons of all is the powder used in dishwashers. This can burn lips, mouths and further down the throat, leaving a very nasty injury.
  • Drain clearers, solvents such as turpentine and methylated spirits are also very dangerous.
  • Always keep these securely locked away - not just put out of reach. Even young children can climb very high to get to something they are interested in.
  • Make sure none of these are put into a bottle that usually contains a drink. Children and also adults have been badly harmed by swallowing something that they though was a safe drink.

Alcohol, cigarettes

  • Children may drink alcohol left in glasses or bottles that adult have not emptied or thrown away.
  • They may also open and drink alcohol in bottles that are not kept in child safe cupboards.
  • Many children have been very seriously poisoned by alcohol and some have been left with brain damage.

Poisonous plants

In Australia there are many plants that produce poisonous berries, fruit or flowers. Have a look at the information on the Kidsafe website Poisonous plants


Chemicals used in and around the house such as insect repellents (eg camphor), snail bait, insecticides, paint thinners etc, may all be found and swallowed by children.

Small batteries (button batteries)

The small batteries used in watches, cameras and some toys can be easily swallowed and can cause serious harm if the contents leak out. Check the information sheet Button batteries on the Kidsafe site http://www.kidsafesa.com.au/


From insects (bees, wasps) and spiders

Keeping children safe

Poison signs, labels etc cannot keep young children safe.

  • All poisons need to be kept where children cannot reach them. Check all products you have in the house, to see which are poisonous and need to be kept locked up.
  • Make sure that medicines are in their original child safe containers. Do not tip medicines out into containers that are easier to open.
  • Keep all medicines in child-proof cupboards. Check handbags, bedside tables, shelves in the kitchen or bathroom. Visitors may have tablets in handbags, and so these need to be put out of reach. If medicines have to be in the fridge, make sure the container is 'child safe'.
  • Dispose of medicines, tablets or chemicals when they are no longer needed. Your chemist or local council will be able to advise you about safe disposal.
  • Do not refer to tablets as 'lollies'. This makes them more attractive to children.
  • Children imitate adults, so avoid taking medicines or tablets when they are around.
  • Never put poisonous fluid (eg petrol, kerosene) in soft drink bottles.
  • Ensure that all cleaning agents are in locked cupboards.
  • Wipe out the powder holder in dishwashers and the residue around the edge of the door after each use, then close it completely.
  • Empty all glasses and bottles that have alcohol in them and dispose of all cigarette butts.
  • Ensure all household or garden chemicals are in locked cupboards or in locked sheds.
  • Use all the protection recommended on the container when using chemicals so that your children see you modelling safe behaviour.
  • Watch out for and safely dispose of small batteries.
  • If you are not sure about plants that are in your garden, check with your local nursery, or with plant reference books to be sure they are safe. Or look at the Kidsafe information Poisonous plants  

Do not keep things 'out of reach'. Even quite young children can climb high if they can see something interesting.

Where to go to find safety products

  • In Australia most major cities have a Child Safety Centre (often Kidsafe) where cupboard locks, medicine cabinets and other home safety products can be viewed, and sometimes bought. Hardware stores will have childproof locks.
  • If medicines or tablets that you use are not in child safety containers, these containers can be bought from chemist shops.

What to do if children swallow something dangerous

  • In Australia there is a Poisons Information Linewhere trained staff can provide information about what to do if a child swallows something that might be dangerous. Take the container to the phone and ring the centre on 13 11 26. Add it to your emergency list.
  • Do not try to make a child vomit or swallow any thing until you have checked what the recommended treatment is.
  • If you do not have access to such a centre, check the instructions on the packaging, or seek help from a doctor or pharmacist as soon as possible. Remember some poisons do not have their action straight away, and they may have a serious effect even if the child seems to be well initially.

A basic First Aid course is also recommended for all parents, and anyone who might care for a child (such as a baby sitter).

Further information about specific poisons


  • Even small amounts of camphor can harm a child.
  • Camphor can be in several types of products sold in pharmacies or supermarkets, such as chest rubs and other products for use for colds, muscle aches.
  • When products for using on the skin are bought, take note about whether they are labelled 'keep out of reach of a child'. If they are it may be because of camphor, or some other poison in them, and they should be kept in a locked cupboard.
  • Camphor can cause convulsions.

Lye water (lime water)

For more information have a look at the fact sheet on the Tasmanian Health website Lye water 

Lye water (sometimes called 'Lime water') is used in very small amounts for cooking meat, rice or noodles, and vegetables like corn, maise or okra - to soften or add flavour. Lye water can also be used to make soap.

Lye water is a caustic liquid. It can cause serious burns to the throat, oesophagus and stomach if swallowed. Children have been injured by swallowing lye water.

It is often sold in attractive bottles similar to soft drink containers, although it is in fact a poison. This poses a serious risk to children. 


  • Mouthwashes often contain high doses of alcohol (as do perfumes). Unlike perfumes, mouthwashes may be reasonably good tasting, and may be swallowed by a child.
  • A lot of alcohol can cause a child to become seriously ill.
  • It has been recommended that mouthwashes containing alcohol have a child proof lid, but not all manufacturers have followed this advice.


South Australia

South Australia Kidsafe Centre


National Poisons Information Centre 13 11 26

KidSafe - This site has the contact details for Kidsafe in your state.

Red Cross Australia

  • A free First Aid Smartphone App can be downloaded from Google Play or the App Store.


National Library of Medicine (USA) 'Tox Town' site for more information about other poisons in the environment 



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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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