How to poison proof your home

Children are active and curious, and will often eat or drink anything they can get their hands on. The good news is that there are ways you can poison proof your home and keep your little one safe from harm. By Licia Selepe

Whether you have a baby or toddler, your home should be an environment where your little one can explore safely. After all, touching, holding, climbing and investigating are the activities that develop your child’s body and mind. Use these tips to keep little explorers from finding their way into household items that could be dangerous.

ALSO SEE: How to toddler proof your home

Common dangerous substances around the home

You must know which products in your home are poisonous or dangerous, says Chiedza Mavengere from the Childsafe campaign. Attractively packaged products that look harmless and are used in and around the home can be dangerous when swallowed by a child. Store these items in a locked cupboard.

  • Kitchen: Items in the cupboard under the sink, such as polishes, bleach, detergents, ammonia, washing powder, insecticides as well as drain, oven and window cleaners.
  • Bathroom: Medicines and tablets, disinfectants, deodorants and toilet cleaners.
  • Bedroom: Perfumes, make-up, nail polish and nail polish remover, moth balls in strips, aerosol cans and fluids.
  • Garage and garden shed: Petrol, paraffin, brake fluid, battery acid, anti-rust paint, paint thinners, swimming-pool chemicals, weed killers, insecticides, pesticides, rodenticides and fertilisers.
  • Poison outdoors: Some plants, berries and mushrooms are poisonous. Children should be taught never to eat anything from the garden before asking an adult.

6 storage tips

Chiedza says the golden rule is to lock up all medicines and potentially dangerous household products, even if they’re already on a high shelf. “Don’t forget that children are curious and persistent, and that they can climb. Children can’t be poisoned by something they can’t get their hands on,” adds Chiedza .

  • Use specially designed childproof boxes or cupboard catches to store medicines and dangerous substances.
  • Where possible, you should have two childproof cupboards in your home – one for medicines and one for other dangerous substances.
  • Don’t carry medicines in your handbag if you have young children.
  • Storing medicines and tablets in bedside tables can be unsafe. Keep them locked away.
  • Never store potentially harmful products in soft drink bottles, containers or cups used for food or drink. This can confuse your child and he may drink the contents by mistake.
  • Never store cleaning agents in the same cupboard as food and keep them locked away.

Be alert

Administering medicines:

  • Make sure you have the correct bottle before giving medicine to children.
  • Don’t give medicine in the dark as using the wrong bottle can have tragic results.
  • Don’t allow a child to take his own medicine.
  • Avoid taking medicines or tablets in a child’s presence. Children love imitating adults, especially their parents.
  • Never allow children to play with empty or full medicine containers.

Read the label:

  • Measure the dose carefully with a medicine spoon and give only the quantity prescribed for a child.
  • Never talk your child into taking tablets by telling him that they are sweets or lollies.
  • Teach your children not to eat or drink from bottles or cans left lying around.

Out of sight

  • Always put containers away after use.
  • Never throw bottles of medicine or cleaning products in a rubbish bin that your child has access to. Rather wash out the empty bottle before putting it in the rubbish bin.
  • Dispose of unwanted, left-over medicines and pills. If this is not possible, flush them down the toilet or wash them down the drain.

ALSO SEE: Are you using medicine safely?

Lead poisoning

Lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust in older buildings are the most common sources of lead poisoning in children, according to the US-based Mayo Clinic. Other sources include contaminated air, water and soil. Lead poisoning occurs when lead builds up in the body, often over months or years. Even small amounts of lead can cause serious health problems and severely affect mental and physical development. While treatment is available for lead poisoning, taking some simple precautions can help protect yourself and your family.

Checking your home for lead:

  • Check older buildings for lead-based paint and hire a professional to control and remove the source safely.
  • Remove any peeling paint or chewable surfaces painted with lead-based paint.
  • To help reduce hand-to-mouth transfer of contaminated dust or soil, wash your child’s hands after he has been playing outdoors, before eating, and at bedtime.

In case of poisoning

Even if you poison proof your home, the unexpected can still occur, which is why it’s important to always be aware of your little one’s whereabouts and activities. If you have to take your child to the doctor or hospital, take the container, label, and remainder of the substance swallowed to help the doctor identify the type, and estimate the amount, of poison taken, advises Chiedza.

Where to get help

  • Red Cross Children’s Hospital Poisons Information Centre: 021 689 5227
  • Netcare Unitas Hospital Poison Information Centre: 0800 111 229
  • Tygerberg Poison Information Centre: 0861 555 777
  • General emergency number: 10111
  • Cellphone general emergency number: 112
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