One of the main reasons little children are admitted to the hospital is poisoning. Many children are poisoned at home by substances that parents thought were safely stored. The New Zealand National Poisons Centre provides a 24-hour, 7 days a week telephone service about poisons – 0800 POISON (0800 764 766)

The centre also provides written information if non-urgent advice is needed. Staff maintain a computer database on the health effects of various poisons, chemicals, medicines, plants and animals.


Medicines are the greatest hazard. All homes contain medicines and poisonous household products. These include: aspirin, paracetamol tablets, the ‘pill’, dishwater detergents, iron tablets, heart tablets, blood pressure tablets, anti-convulsants, anti-depressants, sedatives, tranquilizers, antihistamines, diuretics, asthma drugs, alcohol, antifreeze, disinfectants, eucalyptus oil camphor, caustics, corrosives, insecticides, herbicides, pesticides, rat killers, petroleum products, solvents, thinners, adhesives, brake fluid, ammonia, batteries, cigarettes.

There are lots of things you can do to keep your child safe.

  • When you pick up your medicines from a pharmacist you can ask for child-resistant packaging.
  • Always keep medicines in their original bottle or packet and never put different tablets or capsules in the same container.
  • Children should be encouraged to take their medicines without referring to them as lollies, sweets or soft drinks.
  • Be positive without associating them with food, drinks or treats.
  • Check the label on the bottle or packet before taking your drugs or if required to give them to someone else, e.g. your children or someone you care for. If you are not sure about instructions – check with your doctor.
  • Always take medicines according to instructions.
  • Take your medication out of view of children. This way children won’t try and copy you.
  • Medicine left in bags is easily accessible, so try to keep bags out of reach.
  • Return all unused and out-of-date drugs to your local pharmacist. This is better than simply throwing them away down the toilet, kitchen sink or in household rubbish.
  • Use childproof locks.
  • Refrain from keeping medication on bedside tables.
  • Ensure when you have finished with medication it is immediately secured and kept in a high cupboard.
  • It is wise to have a daily tablet counter for people on multi medications. So often, people forget and overdose.
  • Always dispose of empty medicine and poison containers safely.
  • Never refer to tablets as lollies.

Cleaners Note: Children act fast and so do poisons. It is wise to always keep poisons OUT OF REACH, OUT OF DANGER – especially with household and garden sprays.

  • Keep laundry and bathroom doors closed.
  • Store cleaning products out of reach of small children.
  • Use childproof locks.
  • Always keep your cleaners in original containers.
  • Never leave a child unattended around cleaning products.
  • Use powdered products rather than liquids.
  • Purchase products with child resistant caps.
  • Keep rodent bait in locked cupboards.
  • Refrain from storing shampoo within reach of children.
  • Store all household cleaning products (furniture polish, bleach, dishwashing liquid, dishwashing machine powder, all-purpose cleaners, washing machine powder or liquid) out of reach of children.
  • Chemicals and cleaning products should always be kept in their original container, with a child proof or tightly fitting lid.
  • Drinking glasses, beverage bottles or food containers should never be used for storage of chemicals. This is very dangerous and illegal.
  • Manufacturers of chemicals and household cleaning products print ‘instructions for use’ on the container. These instructions are for your safety and should always be read before use, even if you have used the product before.
  • If you have any chemicals that are no longer needed it may not be safe, or legal, to simply pour them down the drain or to put them into household rubbish. Contact your local regional council for information on safe disposal.

Garden sprays, paints and other poisons

  • Ensure your garden shed is kept locked.
  • Make sure any paint or spray paint, whether it is open or not is out of reach and teach children that even though they may be colourful they are not lollies.
  • Get some non-toxic paints for arts and crafts, do not use any unsafe paints.
  • Keep all household and garden chemicals (weed or plant sprays, ant, rat or mouse bait, insect repellants, petrol, turpentine etc) in a locked cupboard or cupboard with child-resistant locks.
  • Insist children ask before eating anything out of the garden.
  • Always wash fruit and veggies thoroughly before eating.
  • Do not burn treated timbers.
  • Always wear protective mask and gloves when working with CCA Treated Timbers.
  • Keep young children and pets away from areas inside and out when using sprays.
  • Only use garden or agricultural sprays when there is no wind.
  • Protective clothing is for your personal safety and should be used correctly.
  • Faulty or broken equipment should be replaced.
  • It is vital that children wash their hands before eating after outside play.
  • Berries, flowers, leaves and other plant material that fall onto lawns or garden paths should be cleared away so children are not tempted to put them in their mouth.
  • It may be a good idea to know the names of your plants so that you can give correct information to your doctor or the Poisons Centre if it is needed.
  • If you suspect poisoning check what has been taken then phone 0800 764 766 (the Poisons Centre) for advice.

If you have to burn rubbish do it in an open area, and be careful not to allow the smoke to blow towards your family or neighbours as smoke can cause irritation to the throat and lungs. Some plant material can produce poisonous fumes if burned, for example, oleander. Treated wood and plastics are not safe to burn. Old chemical or medicine packets, especially inhalers, should not be burned.

Carbon Monoxide, ‘The Silent Killer’

Carbon Monoxide is produced by burning ANY fuel, always have ventilation. Symptoms include dizziness, nausea, fatigue, headaches. If you suffer from these symptoms indoors, feel better when outside, yet symptoms reappear when back indoors, you may have CO poisoning. Get into fresh air and seek emergency medical care. Never operate unvented gas-burning appliances in a closed room. Only use mobile gas heaters in a well-ventilated room.

Poison first aid

If you suspect your child has swallowed something poisonous:

  • Stay calm – this will help the child to stay calm.
  • Protect yourself from poisons, especially if there is smoke, fumes or a lot of chemicals spilt.
  • Check to see if the person is conscious by talking to them. If you don’t get a reply, check that they are breathing and have a pulse, place them on their side (recovery position – see section on FIRST AID). If there is no pulse and they are not breathing immediately start resuscitation. The mouth-to-nose technique must be used if there is any chance the rescuer may be contaminated by the poison by using mouth-to-mouth technique. Call an ambulance. Try to identify the chemical or drug involved so that correct information can be given to the doctor. If a poison has been swallowed contact the Poison Centre on 0800 POISON (0800 764 766) or your doctor.
  • Making someone vomit is not always best. If the poison is corrosive then drinking may be helpful. Water is the best thing to drink.
  • Some household products can cause vomiting. If vomiting does occur, try not to let children inhale the vomit as they may damage their lungs.
  • Children should not be put to bed after swallowing any poison without first contacting the Poison Centre or a doctor.
  • Sometimes poisons can splash into the eyes which are very sensitive and can be quickly damaged by liquids or powders. If this happens, wash the eye with water. Cleanse the eye for at least 20 minutes. Rinse the eye from the nose to the ear so as not to flush the poison into the other eye. Lift both lids so water can flush away the chemical from under both eyelids. After cleaning the eye, go to the nearest hospital or medical centre so a doctor can assess the eye. If corrosive products are splashed in the eye call an ambulance immediately. Ambulance officers can help cleanse the eyes while travelling to the hospital.
  • If chemicals splash onto the skin, remove the person away from the chemical and immediately clean the affected skin with lots of water. Remove any contaminated clothing unless there is burnt skin or clothing. If a large area of skin has been exposed, call an ambulance while still cleaning the area. If a small area is involved, clean the area with water for 20 minutes, if pain, swelling or irritation persists seek medical attention.
  • The fire service may be needed to assist with chemical spills. Do not hesitate to call if you are unsure.