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Kids’ Safety: Medicine and Poisons safety in the home

All households have medicines and products that can be harmful to children. Learn how to properly store these products and what to do if your child accidentally swallows something.

Poisonings at home often involve young children playing with:
  • medicines
  • household cleaners such as disinfectants, bleach and dishwasher powder
  • garden chemicals such as pesticides and baits
  • home improvement products such as paint and polish
  • cosmetics, hair colour, essential oils (such as eucalyptus oil) and other similar products
  • alcohol including alcohol found in perfume and mouthwash
  • small ‘button’ or ‘coin’ batteries
  • poisonous plants in the house or garden.

Some medicines and poisons are packaged in containers with child-safety caps that can be re-closed after opening. These caps have to be squeezed and turned at the same time or pushed down and turned at the same time. Always make sure the caps are put back on correctly.

These safety caps may be difficult to open and increase the time it takes for a child to get to the contents, but they are not completely child-proof.

Some other medicines and poisons are packaged in foil and blister packs. These are hard to open, but cannot be re-closed. Once open, the contents are easily available to children.

While some adults (especially older people) might find it difficult to open and close child-resistant containers, it’s important to not transfer the contents into another container or leave them within reach of children.

Safe storage, both out of sight and out of reach of children, is the best protection from accidental poisoning.

What to do if a child swallows a poison

Immediately call triple zero (000) for an ambulance if the child is:

  • drowsy or unconscious
  • having difficulty breathing
  • very restless or agitated
  • having seizures.

If the child is stable and has no signs of illness, call 13 11 26 in Australia for the Poisons Information Centre as soon as you can. If possible, have the packaging of the medicine or poison with you when making the call, so that you have the information that they will need to advise you.

Don’t make the child vomit, or force them to drink lots of fluids, unless you’re advised to do so by the poisons centre or another health professional.

Tips for reducing the risk of poisoning

  • Limit the quantities of poisons in and around your home and garden.
  • Ask for child-safety caps on your medicines and use all child-resistant packaging as instructed.
  • Check that you can open and close child-safety caps before you leave the pharmacy.
  • Keep medicines, poisons and household chemicals in the original packaging – never transfer them into food or drink containers.
  • Always read the labels on medicines and poisons, so that you know how to use them correctly.
  • Avoid taking medicines when children are watching as children copy grown-ups.
  • Never refer to tablets as ‘lollies’ – this makes them attractive to children.
  • When medicating children, set up a checking system with other carers to avoid giving your child a double dose of medicine.
  • Lock away all medicines and poisons in high cupboards with good safety catches.
  • When you have visitors, make sure their handbags and cases are out of reach, because the bags may contain medicines.
  • Keep an eye on what young children are doing.
  • Throw out unused, old and out-of-date medicines – returning them to your pharmacist is the safest way to do this.

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