Childhood poisoning: access and prevention

J Paediatr Child Health. 2001 Jun;37(3):262-5. doi: 10.1046/j.1440-1754.2001.00654.x.


Objectives: To investigate the circumstances and means of access to six poisoning agents by children under 5 years of age and to make recommendations for countermeasures and strategies for implementation.

Methodology: A case series study of access to six poisoning agents was conducted. Cases were identified prospectively through a poisons information centre and hospital emergency departments. Interviews were conducted with 523 parents and caregivers using a structured questionnaire.

Results: The majority of children (94.1%) accessed the agent in their own home or another home and, in 38% of cases (excluding mistakes in administration), the parent or caregiver was present in the immediate area at the time of the incident. In cases in which the child was alone in the room, caregivers were frequently involved in household duties (51%), with only 10% undertaking leisure activities and 8% on the telephone. The span of unsupervised time reported was 5 min or less in 79.5% of these cases. The means of access was generally during periods of use of the agent (75.3%), including just purchased, rather than when agents were in their usual storage place.

Conclusions: There is little scope for improved supervision as a major intervention. Design and regulatory changes such as local safe storage for bench tops and while travelling, improved labelling and packaging, improved child-resistant packaging and its more general application are required. These and agent-specific interventions, including child-resistant bait stations for rodenticides and well covers for vaporizers, are more likely to prevent poisoning. The recent identification of childhood poisoning prevention as a national priority may lead to coordinated action to implement these and other preventive measures.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Catchment Area, Health
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Patient Admission / statistics & numerical data
  • Poisoning / epidemiology*
  • Poisoning / etiology*
  • Poisoning / prevention & control
  • Prevalence
  • Prospective Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires