Child safety at home

The home is where a family spend most of their time. It is important for children’s growth and development to ensure the home is safe and that potential harms and hazards are minimised.

Poisons safety

Poisoning is one of the most common childhood injuries, and nearly all childhood poisonings take place at home. 

Children's hospital admissions from poisons

Every year, in NSW, more than 500 children are admitted to hospital as a result of poisoning from products found in and around the home.

Most accidental poisonings happen to children younger than five years old, with children aged one to three years most at risk. Storing potentially poisonous substances either locked away or out of reach of children is crucial to prevent accidental poisoning.

Tips to prevent poisoning in the home

  • Save the Poisons Information Centre phone number (13 11 26) on your mobile phone
  • Ensure that all poisons, including medicines, cleaning products and chemicals are:
    • in their original container 
    • clearly labelled
    • out of reach from children
  • Place containers with poisons in a child-resistant locked cupboard that is at least 1.5 metres above the ground
  • Closely supervise children, especially visitors, around the home
  • Return poisons to their safe storage area immediately after use - do not leave them out on a bench or counter
  • Be extra vigilant when a normal family routine is changed, for example, going on holidays, moving house, having visitors and during family disruption
  • Dispose of unwanted household chemicals – contact EPA Clean Out on 131 555 or go to www.cleanout.com.au 
  • Check that the plants in your garden are not poisonous - ask your local nursery or visit the Poisons Information Centre website for basic plant safety information and more.
     

Medications are the most common cause of childhood poisoning. See Medication safety for more information on safe storage and administration.  

First aid for poisoning 

If your child has had any contact with a poison, don’t wait for signs or symptoms to occur. Call the Poisons Information Centre, Triple Zero (000) or go to your nearest hospital's emergency department.

In an emergency,

  • if your child has stopped breathing or collapses, call Triple Zero (000)
  • call the Poisons Information Centre (PIC) hotline (13 11 26)
  • provide immediate first aid.

In case of contact with poison, there are some general first aid tips that can be followed based on the form of contact with the posion. However, it is important to follow the advice from Triple Zero and the PIC, as they will be able to provide specific guidance based on your child’s situation. 
 

Swallowed

Do not try to make the child vomit. Call the PIC and explain the poison from the label on the container if possible.

On the skin

Removing any affected clothing. When doing so, be careful that your child’s skin doesn’t come into contact with the poison again. Once removed, it is important to thoroughly rinse the skin with lots of cool running water. Call the PIC and explain the poison from the label on the container if possible.

In this process, be sure that your own skin doesn’t touch the poison.
 

In the eyes

Position the child’s face sideways and make sure the affected eye is closer to the ground to avoid contaminating the other eye. Hold the eyelid open. Wash the eye with cool running tap water from a cup, jug, or slowly running tap. Continue for 10-15 minutes, holding the eyelids open.

Call the PIC and explain the poison from the label on the container if possible.
 

Inhaled poison

Get the child to fresh air quickly without placing yourself or the child at risk. Where possible, avoid breathing in further fumes. Ventilate the area by opening doors and windows wide if it is safe to do so.

Call the PIC and explain the poison from the label on the container if possible.
 

Baby proofing the house

Baby proofing is the term given to assessing an area, most commonly the home, for potential risks or threats to babies and young children. Each household is different and poses different risks. 

Try to look at your home from a child’s point of view and consider their height, ability and age. Some important hazards to consider include:

Furniture

Make sure heavy furniture is anchored to the wall or floor to prevent tipping. If TV’s aren’t mounted to the wall, TV straps can be used to stop them from tipping from your cabinet and onto your child. 

Safety latches on cabinets and drawers can be used to prevent curious children from opening cupboards that pose potential risks or hazards.

Corner guards should also be placed on the edges of tables and other sharp edges to prevent contact with children.
Identify and remove any objects that could fall or break, such as a glass vase, a candle or items such as knives.

Remember: If your child is able to climb up onto chairs or tables, there may be additional items to reconsider. 
 

Electrical outlets, cables or cords

Cover any unused electrical outlets with safety plugs, also called outlet covers. This is to prevent children from placing objects and fingers into sockets that can cause electric shock and electrocution.

Ensure there are no low-lying cords by removing or hiding them. Use cord organisers or cable ties to keep them out of reach of children.

Check all cables, cords and electrical appliances regularly to ensure they are safe and in good condition. Damaged, faulty or misused electrical goods are the most common causes of electric shock or electrocution. 
 

Ovens and stovetops

Attach free-standing ovens to the wall and install a stove guard to prevent young children from pulling hot products down on themselves.

An appliance lock can be used on ovens and other electrical appliances to prevent children from opening them.

See Burns and fire safety for tips to prevent burns and scalds in the kitchen.
 

Heaters

Install a heat-resistant guard around heaters or fireplaces to prevent burns. 

See Burns and fire safety for more information.

Stairs and gates

It is important to ensure that your child is unable to access stairs without adult supervision to prevent falls or to keep them from reaching areas they shouldn't be in. Install safety gates at the top and bottom of any stairs, as well as any other areas of potential risk, such as access to the garage.

Medication storage

See Medication safety for more information.

Doors and windows

Install door knob covers, window guards, and make sure cords from window blinds cannot be reached by small children on chairs or from their crib.

Keep windows locked to a maximum opening width of 12.5cm to prevent children falling from windows. Do not rely on flyscreens alone for window safety.
 

Crib/carrier safety

Follow the tips on Newborn sleep for more information on crib and carrier safety.

Balconies and balustrades

See balconies and balustrades for more information.

Pool safety

See Water safety for pool safety requirements to prevent drowning in an around water.

Small objects

Small objects pose a risk to children choking. Vacuuming regularly can help ensure there are no small objects on the ground that children can place into their mouth.
It is important to ensure that children cannot reach or climb up to reach any small objects such as:

  • jewellery, such as earrings or rings
  • loose change, including coins
  • hair accessories, such as bobby pins.

See the Choking module to learn more.

Balconies and balustrades

Balconies should be equipped with secure railings, also known as balustrades, to prevent any unnecessary falls around your home. This is a requirement of the Building Code of Australia.

Balcony regulations

If a balcony around your home is more than one metre above the ground surface, it must have a railing which is also at least one metre tall. 

Importantly, the opening of railings should not be larger than 12.5cm to prevent children from squeezing through or getting stuck. This is also the same maximum distance that a home window should be opened to prevent accidents.

To ensure the safety of your child, it is crucial to remove any objects that are near the balcony railing. This will prevent children from climbing up and over. This becomes more and more important the older your child gets as their ability to climb increases.
 

Did you know?

Almost all falls from balconies occur within the child's own home. These falls tend to occur more frequently during the summer months and children who present to the hospital as a result are typically under the age of 5. 

Staying safe around pets

To ensure that all family members, including those with fur, can coexist in a safe space, it is important to teach your children how to interact with household pets safely.

While pets like cats and dogs can bring joy to a family, they also have survival instincts and communication styles that may harm children.
 

Dogs 

Children aged 0-5 are at the highest risk of being bitten by a dog, especially if the dog is known to them or is their own. This is most likely to occur in their own home.

It’s important to note that any dog is capable of biting a child in the wrong situation. Following the steps below will help keep your home environment safe and prevent injury from the furry members of the family. 

Remember to:

  • always supervise your child when they are near dogs and model positive behaviour 
  • teach your child to pat dogs gently and calmly
  • don’t try to pat dogs that are eating, sleeping, playing with a toy, growling, backing away, raising the hair on their back or raising puppies
  • teach your child to never pull their tail, fur or ears
  • never let your child intervene or pat dogs who are fighting
  • be aware that when you or your child play aggressive games with a dog, such as wrestling, it may make your dog more aggressive
  • train your dog from an early age to sit, stay, drop and come to establish boundaries and discipline and make sure the whole family know the same commands
  • make sure the dog you choose is going to fit your family dynamic and activity levels
  • only allow your child to approach other dogs after they have asked permission from the owner - teach your child to approach the dog slowly with the back of their hand extended.

Cats

Cats are also a great pet for the family home and are usually quite safe when handled gently. Although usually smaller than a family dog, a cat can still cause puncture wound injury through scratches or bites. 

Remember to:

  • keep cats out of babies' sleeping and play areas so they do not have access to where children may be more vulnerable
  • teach your child to respect the cat’s space and independence
  • make sure your child understands they shouldn’t access or play in the cat’s litter tray.
     

Birds 

These safety tips will help prevent children’s injury from pet birds in the home:

  • ensure bird cages are secure, locked and out of reach of young children 
  • teach your child gentle handling 
  • teach your child not to put their fingers inside a bird cage
  • teach your child not to hold pet birds too close to their face 
  • always supervise a child if they are feeding wild birds from outside the house
  • be aware of Parrot fever risks.

See the following factsheet for more information on other animals, bugs and creatures:

 

Choosing safe toys

Toys are a great addition to a child’s development, engagement and enjoyment. Choosing the right toys, and making sure you have toys in the house which comply with safety standards will provide you peace of mind and allow your child to continue to enjoy their toys for years to come. 

Toy safety tips focus on children 3 years or below, as they are at most risk of accidental injury:

  • age appropriate: certain toys are not suitable for younger age categories, keep an eye out for age guides on toy packaging 
  • supervise: when your child is using a toy for the first time, make sure you are watching as a parent or carer  
  • avoid small parts: for younger children, some toys with small pieces can be a choking hazard, so make sure they aren’t purchased or are out of reach for smaller siblings to help prevent any choking accidents
  • understand the choking hazard risk of button batteries: button batteries are coin-shaped batteries found in many toys. They have the potential to cause choking and/or chemical burns in a child’s digestive system. If a toy or product (i.e. TV remote) uses button batteries and is not secured with a screwed-down compartment, stop using the product or keep it out of reach and sight of children. 
  • prevent children from playing in adult's handbags and backpacks: these items usually contain smaller items that we have not thought of as safe for children. Often you may not be sure of what you had at the bottom of a bag. Keep them high on shelves, benchtops or out of reach of children 
  • teach older children: educate your child about the potential safety hazards when buying new toys for them or their sibling 
  • find toys which are designed from non-toxic and non-flammable materials, don’t have sharp edges and are not made out of foam 
  • check purchased toys meet the Australia Safety Standards and inspect toys to ensure they are not old, frayed or have sections which may fall off. 
Last updated Wednesday 22nd May 2024