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Written by Caroline Meyer

Accidents involving poison are not an uncommon occurrence around the house. They occur all the time, with about 50 Australian children admitted to hospital weekly due to poisoning. These accidents are usually unexpected, your child could open bottles or cupboards without you realizing, thus it is important to plan ahead and be aware of the new skills your child is developing in order to prevent accidents. A child should not be left unsupervised around household poisons. The adult should always be alert and undistracted so that they can step in if need be. 

Many substances that are meant for daily usage can actually be poisonous. Most of them are only poisonous when they are used incorrectly, for example if dishwashing powder is ingested or comes into contact with your eyes it can be harmful. Medicines can also be poison, they happen to be the biggest cause of poisoning in children, being the reason for 70% of cases when it comes to child poisoning. Majority of medicines can become poisonous if the dosage is too large, this also applies to vitamins and herbal medication. Once you become aware of which substances pose a threat to your child’s safety, it will be easier to protect them from coming int to contact with them. 

If you suspect that your child has ingested a poisonous substance, take immediate action. Have your child and the container of the substance near you when you phone the Poisons Information Centre. Here you can receive medical advice any time, wherever you are in Australia. For more serious cases where the child needs urgent attention call an ambulance or get your child to hospital as soon as possible. 

All potentially harmful substances such as medicines, cleaners and chemicals, should be stored out of the reach of children in high, secured cupboards. A sufficient height of the chosen cupboard should be 1.5 meters or higher and there should be child resistant locks on the doors. Some other precautionary measures you can take to prevent poisoning includes: 

  • Making sure all potentially dangerous items are not accessible, before your child starts climbing and moving around. 
  • Locking away any chemicals, medicines and cleaners in a safe storage place and put them away straight after use 
  • Ensuring that all cupboards and containers are child resistant. This means that they will not be able to access any of your medicines, cleaners and chemicals. 
  • Keep any potentially harmful products in their original packaging. Do not decant, mix or store dangerous substances into containers that are used for food or drink. Do not put liquid chemicals such as weed killers, paint thinners or detergents into bottles that can be mistaken as a soft drink. 
  • Regularly cleaning cupboards that hold chemicals. Disposing of any unwanted detergents and chemicals is necessary. Always clean out the empty containers with before disposal. 

When normal household routines are disrupted, the chances of your child being poisoned increase. This means that if you are on holiday, at a friend’s house or have recently moved, it is important to be super aware and take extra care to make sure your child is safe. It is possible that curious children will get into cupboards that are locked or into the high chemical cupboards, that is why it is important to teach them to stay away from them and to make them aware of the dangers as soon as they are old enough to understand.

When medicating your children or other family members, there are some things that you need to do in order to reduce the chances of overdosing or accidental poisoning: 

  • Always read the directions for use and dosage carefully when administering medication to your child. You should double check all the details before giving them the medicine. Contact a doctor or pharmacist if you are unsure of the dosage or period of time that it needs to be used for.
  • Avoid getting distracted while giving your child medicine. It is best to create a routine that accommodates taking medicine on a daily basis and always supervise your child when they are taking their medication to prevent accidents. 
  • Create a system where you and the other adults in the home check with each other before giving medication to avoid doubling up on doses. 
  • If medicine bottles do not have child-resistant caps on, ask your pharmacist to put one on. Always ensure that the lid is on properly after use. 
  • The medicine cupboard should be cleaned out on a regular basis. All unwanted and outdated medication or poisons should be disposed of safely. The best option is to return it to your pharmacist who can dispose of it according to safety protocols. 
  • All empty medicine containers should be rinsed out before you throw them away. 

When visitors are at the house, ensure their handbags or anything else they carry with them are not accessible to small children as there could be medication or other harmful substances in them. Keep planning ahead because as your child gets older, they develop new skills and it will increase the chances of accidental poisoning. Your vigilance will help prevent accidental poisoning in your home and when you are out.

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