Poisoning and child safety


  • Accidental poisoning is most commonly a problem in young children. 
  • Most poisonings happen at home, but they can also happen while visiting friends and family or while on holiday.
  • It is easy for parents and carers to underestimate the ability of young children to reach medicines or chemicals.
  • Keep all poisons, especially things you use every day, such as medicines, drain cleaners, oven or grill cleaners, bleach, and dishwasher machine powder, well out of reach of children.
  • Always double check before giving medicine to children.

Accidental poisoning is common, especially among toddlers aged between one and three years. 

Children explore their environment as part of their normal, natural development. They learn about new things by playing with them – trying to open containers, mimicking what they see siblings or adults do – and by putting things in their mouth. Swallowing a poisonous substance, spilling it on the skin, spraying or splashing it in the eye or inhaling it can all lead to poisoning.

A child may also be poisoned if they are given the wrong medicine or a wrong dose of medicine. Always double check the age and dosage instructions before giving medicine to children.

Young children do not know the difference between what is safe and what is dangerous. It is your responsibility to make your home safe for children. Do not assume that your child can understand safety messages. Telling a child a product is dangerous is not enough to protect them from poisoning.

If you suspect a child has been exposed to a poison, or given the wrong medicine or the wrong dose of medicine, do not wait for symptoms to occur. Call the Poisons Information Centre (Tel. 13 11 26) immediately for advice. 

How child poisoning can occur

Most poisonings involving children happen at home, but they can also occur while visiting friends and family, or while on holiday. 

Poison may be swallowed, spilt on the skin, sprayed or splashed in the eye or inhaled.

Children are often poisoned by substances left unattended and easily accessed in places such as:

  • on a bench or table, ready to be used 
  • in visitors’ bags (for example, medicines)
  • in bedside tables. 

But don’t assume that high cupboards provide safe storage, as children learn to climb to get to things. A locked cabinet is the best storage option. 

Plants or mushrooms in the home garden may also present a poisoning risk to your child. The Victorian Poisons Information Centre has a list of plants that are poisonous and that are best not to grow in places where children may have access to them. 

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