Circumstances surrounding accidental ingestion of poisons were investigated in families of 70 hospitalised children. Indian children were more likely to be hospitalised for poisoning. Poor safety measures directly contributed to poisoning incidents. Poisons had not been stored safely and only in 12.9 per cent of families were the poisons allegedly kept in cupboards. Kerosene had been ingested from soft drink containers in 70 per cent of instances. Medications had been taken mainly from plastic envelopes (57.9%) or bottles (31.6%). Safety practices in the homes of cases and 140 controls were compared. As a whole parents of victims had poor safety practices when compared with parents of controls. Poisoning incidents were discovered by mothers in 75.0 per cent of the cases. Vomiting was induced by parents in 32.3 per cent of cases involving medications and non-volatile items, and in 41.6 per cent of kerosene ingestions. Before hospitalisation 59.4 per cent were brought to general practitioners and 22.7 per cent to government clinics. Mothers were the main attendants when children were brought for medical care. This study highlights the need for measures to prevent childhood poisoning and reduce its morbidity. Household products and medications should be made safer to children through improved packaging, prescribing instructions and education. Safety and first aid education may be directed towards parents, particularly mothers, through the media and health facilities.