Safety: Poisoning prevention

  • Poisoning can happen to anyone, anywhere, but children are particularly at risk as they enjoy exploring and putting things in their mouth as part of their normal development. Poisoning is most common in children aged five years and under, with those aged between one and three years at greatest risk.

    Parents and caregivers are often surprised just how many potentially poisonous substances they have at home and the speed with which their child can touch, inhale or ingest something.

    You can reduce the risk of accidental poisoning by securely storing and safely using medications and poisonous substances.

    Death from poisoning is rare, but poisoning will require emergency treatment and hospital admission in severe cases.

    What is a poison?

    Any household product or medicine used incorrectly can be a poison. Poisons include:

    • drugs or medicines (e.g. paracetamol, prescription medications, sleeping tablets)
    • cleaning products (detergents, bleaches, drain cleaners)
    • cosmetics (perfume, nail polish remover, cologne, make-up)
    • other chemicals such as petrol, alcohol, cigarettes, glues, herbicides and pesticides
    • poisonous plants.

    Poisoning can occur if the substance is swallowed, inhaled, spilt on the skin, splashed into the eye or injected.

    First aid for poisoning

    Call an ambulance immediately if your child collapses, stops breathing or has difficulty breathing, or is having a fit.

    If you suspect a child has been exposed to poison, do not try to induce vomiting. Do not wait for symptoms to occur. Take the child and the container with you to the phone immediately and call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 (24 hours a day in Australia). They will be able to give you first aid advice. It is helpful to know what the substance was and how much of the substance was taken.

    Do not ring the Poisons Information Centre in a medical emergency.

    Preventing poisoning

    Storing chemicals

    • Store chemicals, medicines and cleaning products in a locked or child-resistant cupboard, out of reach and out of sight of children (at least 1.5 m high). Put them away immediately after using or buying them. Locks and lockable cabinets are available at hardware stores.
    • Garden sprays, fertilisers, paints, thinners and other hardware products should be kept in a locked cupboard in a garage or shed and out of reach of children.
    • Leave all chemicals, medicines and cleaning products in their original containers with clear labels and ensure the lids are secured. Always follow the directions for use on the label. Never transfer or store these products in cups or soft drink bottles.
    • Store poisons away from food.


    • Refer to medicines by their proper names. Do not confuse children by referring to medicines as lollies.
    • Young children tend to imitate adults, so adults should avoid taking medicines with children present.
    • Clean medicine cupboards out regularly. Take unwanted and out-of-date medicines to a pharmacy for disposal.
    • Visitor’s bags may contain medicines. Make sure these are kept well out of reach of children.
    • Taking more than the recommended dose can be harmful, so take extra care when measuring and giving medicines.

    Key points to remember

    • Install child-resistant locks on all cupboards where you keep chemicals, medicines and cleaning products.
    • Leave all chemicals, medicines and cleaning products in their original containers with their lids secured and follow the directions on the label.
    • Put all chemicals away immediately after use.
    • In a medical emergency, call for an ambulance.
    • If you think your child has swallowed something poisonous, take the container and the child to the phone immediately and call 13 11 26. 

    For more information

    Common questions our doctors are asked

    Where can I buy suitable child-resistant locks and latches for cupboards?

    There are many products available in hardware stores, department stores (e.g. Big W, Target, Baby Bunting, Bunnings) and online that help make your home safer for your baby, toddler or child. It’s a good idea to take a look around your home from your child’s perspective – get down low for crawling babies, and look at what a toddler or older child might be able to access. Choose products that will help secure the spots you want to make safe.

    My child had a cleaning chemical spill on their skin, but they didn’t swallow any. What should I do? Do I still call the poisons centre?

    Yes, you should call the Poisons Information Centre (13 11 26) as they will be able to give you the correct first aid advice. Chemical poisoning can occur from touching the skin, as well as from being swallowed.

    Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Community Information. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.

    Reviewed October 2018.

    This information is awaiting routine review. Please always seek the most recent advice from a registered and practising clinician.

    Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit


This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.