You can get so used to your environment that you fail to see the threats around you, says André Brisebois, president of Canada’s Children’s Health and Safety Association: “Our everyday lives erode our alertness to the problems.”

Half of poison exposures happen with children under age six, according to Parachute, a Canadian injury prevention organization, and some 1,700 children under 14 are hospitalized annually for serious injuries due to poisoning. These five safety tips will help prevent it from happening in your home:

  1. Keep products in their original containers. For instance, don’t transfer cleaners into water or pop bottles. Many poisonings occur when children ingest hazardous products stored in beverage containers. The details on a product’s original label are also critical; poison control centres and emergency rooms can treat poisoning victims more accurately with this information.
  2. Lock up and look up. Latches and locks on cupboard doors are important, but ideally hazardous substances should be out of children’s reach, too. So, don’t store hazardous products under the sink or in other easily accessible spots. To gain a sense of where there might be trouble lurking, look at your home through a child’s eyes, says Pamela Fuselli, a vice-president at Parachute: “Get down to their level to see things from their perspective.” Younger kids explore not just by looking and touching, but also by putting things in their mouths, notes Fuselli. Strong smells or bad tastes don’t always stop them.
  3. Don’t forget the bathroom. Unless your bathroom medicine cabinet has a lock, keep hazardous items secure somewhere else -- and that includes personal care products such as cosmetics, perfumes, nail polish remover and mouthwash. Remember that when it comes to packaging, child-resistant doesn’t mean child-proof. Also, Dr. Ian Pike, Director of the B.C. Injury Research and Prevention Unit, reminds parents to read labels carefully when giving their children medicine, even over-the-counter drugs. It’s easy to combine medications for, say, a cough, runny nose and aches over a short period -- and end up giving your child a triple dose of acetaminophen. (And while you’re in your medicine cabinet, remember to throw away outdated medications.)
  4. Keep the outdoor hazards in mind. As you begin working on your lawn and garden this year, be sure to keep products such as weed killers, pesticides and fertilizers secure and out of reach of children in the garage or shed. When using them, never leave the container or applicator unattended. (That goes for windshield wiper fluid, antifreeze and car wash products, too.) Poison centres get many calls about children eating flowers, berries, plants or mushrooms. Supervise young children closely around the garden, and teach older ones what not to gobble. To learn what’s unsafe, go online and check lists developed by the Canadian Child Care Federation, the Alberta Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, and the IWK Poison Centre in Halifax.
  5. Breathe easier with the right alarm. Carbon monoxide is colourless, odourless and toxic. It can come from defective appliances, dryers and furnaces, or from car exhaust fumes. You should have carbon monoxide alarms for all levels of your home. Most need replacing every five to seven years, so keep a note of installation dates.

If you suspect your child has been poisoned, contact your local poison centre. Call 911 immediately if your child is unconscious, convulsing or having trouble breathing or swallowing.

Education is important. Explain hazard symbols on household chemicals to your kids, and establish rules about what’s off-limits. But kids will be kids. It’s up to you as parents to take simple poison prevention steps and make a real impact on these avoidable injuries.