Protect from poison

08 March 2019

RoSPA’s acting public health adviser Ashley Martin explains how you can help reduce accidental poisoning in under-fives.

Cleaning iStock
Ashley Martin
Due to their inquisitive nature and because they tend to explore by putting things in their mouths, children under five years of age are most at risk of ending up in hospital after getting their hands on medicines or household chemicals (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), 2017). On average, 13 under-fives are admitted to hospital each day because of  suspected poisoning (NHS Digital, 2018), with children aged one to three years being most at risk (RoSPA, 2017).

Deaths are relatively, thankfully, few; however, if a liquid detergent capsule is mistaken for a toy or sweet and put into the mouth or squirted into the face it can lead to serious injuries to the throat or eyes. Medication poisonings in children often involve household painkillers such as paracetamol.

Take Action Today is the RoSPA campaign to reduce accidental poisoning for this age group. The aim of the campaign is to reach as many families with under-fives as possible, with the help of health visitors. The overall idea is that individual health visitors or participating organisations provide a magnetic pad that families can place on the fridge with the key messages of how to prevent accidental poisoning. It serves as an easy reminder on a day-to-day basis, but also provides a handy way of engaging families in conversation about preventing household poisoning.


Safety rules

RoSPA’s advice is that parents and carers should keep household cleaning products and medicines stored out of reach and out of sight of young children, if possible in a locked cupboard. Grandparents and neighbours should also be encouraged to take extra care when children are visiting their homes. Other advice includes the following:

  • Always store household cleaning chemicals in their original containers
  • Store household cleaning products in a different place from food and medicine
  • Dispose of unwanted household cleaning products and medicines safely
  • Remember, when it comes to liquid laundry capsules, always close the packaging securely and store out of reach and sight of children.
Health visitors are well placed to reiterate this advice to families, as well as general tips on household safety. Not least because those most at risk from a home accident are the 0 to four years age group (Consumer Safety Unit, 2002). In fact, younger children have a higher percentage of burns and scalds as well as poisoning and ingestion accidents, while older children are more likely to sustain fractures than younger counterparts when it comes to accidents (Consumer Safety Unit, 2002).


Over the past five years, together with the UK Cleaning Products Industry Association (UKCPI), RoSPA has delivered the Take Action Today campaign in 15 areas across the UK, from Birmingham to Warwickshire, and including Northern Ireland and the Scottish Borders. Around 400,000 families have benefited from receiving safety advice in the form of the magnetic fridge pad which is accompanied by factsheets, checklists and briefing notes that help to ensure consistent and clear messages reach as many families in the target area as possible.

The results are exciting. Although it hasn’t been possible to track A&E data in all areas where the campaign has been delivered, early pilot sites in Birmingham and Liverpool showed a significant drop in incidences reported by hospitals following the programme. Equally important, family surveys have shown a significant change in the way families store products following the campaign, and over 80% of respondents indicated that they would pass on the safety messages to their friends and family (RoSPA, 2019).


How it works

Each participating organisation or individual health visitor receives a supply of the magnetic pads based on the number of families with under-fives in the area, and then undertakes distribution of the pads over a period of a few months. The impact of the programme is measured through a mix of feedback from families on how the programme has increased their awareness and changed how they store household products, along with data on hospital admissions and – where available – attendances.

The programme usually begins with a media launch at a venue that is accessible to families and those who will be involved in delivering the campaign. Children’s hospitals, children’s centres and libraries are examples of previous venues.

RoSPA is currently working with Fairy Non-Bio to spread the Take Action Today programme right across the north-west region. This is a major opportunity to raise awareness of the need to keep children safe from accidental poisoning and eye injury, and we are keen to work with local health visitor services to make sure that we reach as many families as possible.

The programme is designed to support the work that health visitors and other local partners already do in supporting families by providing materials, free of charge, which will help to raise this issue during scheduled visits and contacts.

To sign up to the campaign and help distribute the free magnetic pads and resources, email [email protected]

Ashley Martin is the acting public health adviser for RoSPA. 


For the Take Action Today campaign, with links to factsheets and checklists, see bit.ly/RoSPA_action  

Time to Reflect

How can you help prevent accidents at home, such as accidental poisoning, for more of the families you see? 
Join in the conversation on Twitter @CommPrac using #HomeSafety


Image credit | iStock



Consumer Safety Unit. (2002) 24th annual report, home accident surveillance system. Department of Trade and Industry: London.

NHS Digital. (2018) Hospital admitted patient care activity, 2017-18. See: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/hospital-admitted-patient-care-activity/2017-18 (accessed 25 February 2019).

RoSPA. (2019) Household cleaning products. See: https://www.rospa.com/home-safety/advice/household-cleaning-products (accessed 22 February 2019).

RoSPA. (2017) Take action today, put them away! See: https://www.rospa.com/rospaweb/docs/advice-services/home-safety/take-action-factsheet.pdf (accessed 20 February 2019).

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