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Hazard Symbols of sight and out of reach of children.

Keep all products in their original
containers. DO NOT DECANT
Dangerous chemicals are supposed to be labelled with warning
symbols. But do consumers know what these symbols mean? And Secure cupboards with
what should you do in case of accidental poisoning? childproof locks.
Use any protective clothing, gloves
Chemicals are an integral part of weekends and during school holidays. or goggles that are recommended
modern life. They are found in every in the instructions.
household and workplace. But they Why are children at special Read prescription labels carefully to
can be bad for your health. If not risk of poisoning? avoid taking the wrong medicine
used correctly they can catch fire, Children are at a special risk of or dose. Contact your GP or
cause burns, damage health and poisoning due, in large part, to their pharmacy if in doubt.
damage the environment. Dangerous curiosity and tendency to put things Learn to recognise the hazard
chemicals, by law, must have into their mouths. Many children warning symbols for dangerous
warning labels flagging their have started to crawl by their first chemicals (listed in this article).
contents. But do consumers really birthday, and their hand to mouth Whether with medicines or
know what these labels mean? co-ordination already allows for chemicals, read the labels carefully
And if someone becomes poisoned by items to be placed in their mouths. and correctly follow all instructions.
such chemicals, what should they do? With increased mobility comes Consult your garden centre when
increased curiosity about their deciding on suitable garden plants.
What is a poison? environment and therefore a greater
A poison is a substance which causes risk of poisoning. Do not:-
damage if taken into the body. This Remove the labels from medicines or
can happen by being swallowed, Poison prevention in the home household products. The label nearly
inhaled, injected or absorbed through (adapted from National Poisons always contains information relating
the skin or eyes. Poisons may include Information Centre literature) to ingredients and instructions as to
pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, what to do in an emergency.
household products and even plants. Do:- Transfer tablets to another
The majority of poisonings in this Use containers with child-resistant container. For example, a child
country happen to young children caps. Remember that these are finding tablets in a small container,
and mostly at the childs home, the child-resistant not childproof. Your purse or envelope could mistake
home of a grandparent, relative, pharmacist should be able to them for sweets.
friend or at school. The peak times provide these, if the medicines Store chemicals under the kitchen
for poisoning incidents with regard to dont come in a blister pack. sink or where they can easily be
children is during late afternoon, at Keep all chemicals and medicines out reached in the bathroom.



What is a poison?

Children at risk.

Our survey.

100 consumer choice MARCH 2006 SAFETY


Kitchen Bathroom aftershave lotion, essential Handbag / briefcase

Detergents, disinfectants, Medicines, vitamins, iron oils, pot pourri oils. Coins, medicines,
bleaches, drain cleaner, tablets, aerosol sprays, cigarettes, lighters.
oven cleaners, waxes, shampoo, nail polish Garden
polish, dishwasher remover, mouthwash, Flowers, berries, seeds, Shed / Garage
detergents and tablets, bleach, false teeth cleaner. mushrooms, leaves. Petrol, paraffin, car
white spirit, tippex, glue, products, insect spray,
essential oils, herbal Bedroom Farms fertiliser, weed-killer,
remedies, house plants, Medicines, vitamins, Weedkillers, pesticides, paint, white spirit,
alcohol, coins and minerals, herbal vaccines, sheep dip, slurry turpentine, lighter fluid,
batteries. medicines, perfume, tanks, manure pits. superglue, rat poison.

Forget that grandparents and older you suspect that they may have does not necessarily mean you have
people are more likely than been poisoned. Some poisons have been poisoned.
younger adults to be taking immediate effect, others can take Some poisons do not have
medication, so when visiting them, hours or even days to affect the immediate symptoms and it may be
make sure that medicines are out person, therefore it is always best to hours, days or even months before
of reach of any children. see a GP. If this is not possible, they show.
Have out of date medicines in your bring the person to a hospitals
home. Bring them to your accident and emergency department. When taking someone with
pharmacist for safe disposal. Always take the product container suspected poisoning to the
Refer to medicines or tablets as sweets. or label with you to the GP / hospital or GP, it is important
Take medicines in front of children hospital. If a person ingests a to know the following details:-
as they often imitate the actions substance stored in, for instance, a What was taken?
of adults. container with no label, bring the How much was taken?
Mix chemicals unless you are sure container to the GP. This can help The persons age and weight.
they wont react. For example, never to identify the substance and speed Does the person have any
mix acid cleaners with bleach, as up the treatment. symptoms?
the reaction produces chlorine gas. If a chemical is splashed in the How long ago did the
eyes, they should be immediately poisoning occur?
What to do in an emergency washed with tap water and then Was there manufacturer
Ifa child is found with a poison:- medical assistance sought. information on the label /
Stay calm but act quickly. container. Some labels include
Take the poison away from the child. Symptoms that can occur telephone numbers for the
Make the child spit it out, run your after poisoning manufacturers information desk,
fingers around the mouth and Symptoms can vary depending on the which can be helpful in the case of
inside the mouth, removing any poison, the amount taken and the a suspected poisoning.
remaining material. strength of the product, but can Was there a hazard symbol or
DO NOT make the child vomit. include some of the following: poison label on the product?
This is extremely important as it Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain,
may increase the risk of aspiration drowsiness, dizziness, weakness, HAZARD SYMBOLS SURVEY
(poison going into lungs) and if it headache, difficulty swallowing or
Symbol Incorrect Explanation from members of public
is a corrosive poison, it can burn producing more saliva than normal,
Corrosive Its raining. Is it a pair of scissors?
the throat and mouth for a second skin rash, burns around nose or
time on the way up. mouth, seizures, coma. Its important Environmental Fishing not allowed. Power lines down.
hazard Beware power lines down.
Do not give them anything to eat to remember that almost every one of
Poisonous Its a CD cover.
or drink until instructed to do so these symptoms can be caused by
Flammable Do not burn.
by qualified medical personnel. other, unrelated medical complaints.
Explosive Falling rocks. Beware of laser.
Take the child to a GP or hospital if Therefore, having these symptoms


Report by
Mike Doran

SAFETY MARCH 2006 consumer choice 101

HAZARD SYMBOLS SURVEY with dangerous chemicals. The fact or accident and emergency department
that so few consumers are of a hospital. Although most instances
Hazard symbol Example of product sufficiently familiar with them is of poisoning do not lead to death, it
Irritant Bleaches, some household cleaning products. worrying and indicates that the is vital to get medical treatment.
Government must make more of an
Flammable Compressed gas cylinders / canisters, solvents
such as petrol, white spirit, turpentine, lighter effort to increase awareness of the National Poisons
fluids, cigarette lighters, paraffin, petrochemicals. dangers of chemicals in the home. Information Centre
Toxic Rodent poisons, weedkillers, dishwasher Many doctors treating people who
detergents, disinfectants, bleaches, etc. What the symbols really mean have been poisoned will contact the
Corrosive Some cleaning products, strong acids or alkalis. Toxic/Poisonous: Toxic to health, National Poisons Information Centre
poisonous to humans. On no (NPIC) at Beaumont hospital. The
Explosive Rare in the home.
account ingest. centre operates every day of the year
Environmental hazard Again, rare in the home. More common on a farm Irritant or Harmful: Avoid contact and provides a comprehensive
or in industry.
with skin, do not breath. This information service to medical staff
Flammable gas Gas canisters, refillable gas cylinders for use in symbols covers a wide range of and other healthcare professionals
heaters, some pressurised canisters containing potentially harmful products that can from across the country who are
deodorant, air freshener, etc.
damage the skin and eyes and cause treating suspected poisonings.
irritation to the nose and throat. Information officers at the centre
Useful contacts Hazard symbols survey Corrosive: Avoid contact with skin. answer queries regarding symptoms of
With so many potentially poisonous Can burn skin or eyes. Extreme poisoning. They are not qualified to
The National Poisons substances in the home, it seems caution is advised. make clinical decisions regarding a
Information Centre sensible to be aware of what their Flammable: Risk of catching fire. patients treatment but can assist the
PO Box 1297 hazard warning symbols mean. In an Never expose these products to a doctors in the management of the
Beaumont Hospital effort to gauge consumers awareness naked flame such as a lighter or poisoning by providing relevant, up-to-
Beaumont Road of what these important symbols matches or any other source of date information. The NPIC
Dublin 9 mean, Consumer Choice conducted a ignition, such as electrical switches. Information Officers answer enquiries
tel (01) 837 9966 survey in the Swan Centre, a busy Some flammable materials are also between 8am and 10pm every day. At
fax (01) 837 6982 shopping complex in the South volatile solvents, which means other times, telephone enquiries are
email npic.dublin@ Dublin suburb of Rathmines. that they can spread out from automatically re-routed to the National A list of seven of the most unsealed containers. For this reason, Poisons Information Service in Britain. popular hazard symbols, many of they should be stored in airtight, There are plans to provide 24-hour
which would feature on containers sealed containers. cover at Beaumont soon.
The Health and Safety and products in most homes, was Explosive: Risk of explosion. Another role of the NPIC is to
Authority shown to twenty members of the Environmental hazard: Can cause harm collect data on acute poisoning. This
10 Hogan Place public and they were asked to to the environment, pollute rivers information is then passed on to the
Dublin 2 describe what the symbols meant. and streams, damage wildlife. More European Commission where it is
tel 1890 289 389 Not one person was able to associated with industrial pollution. incorporated with reports from other
fax (01) 614 7020 correctly identify all seven items. Flammable gas: Same as flammable, European Poisons Centres.
email Twelve out of the 20, (60%) but in gas form (usually pressurised The number of enquiries received correctly identified three symbols or containers). by the NPIC has increased
less. Of the remaining eight who got The hazard symbols most familiar dramatically in the past ten years. Last
at least four correct, only one to consumers in the survey were the year, the centre dealt with 16,000
identified five symbols correctly. Irritant, Toxic and Flammable calls. Of this number, most involved
There is a difference between symbols. This is unsurprising as pharmaceuticals, but 1,890 were cases
recognising a warning symbol and these would feature in most of household poisonings. The
knowing what it means. Most of the households at one time or another. majority of these, nearly 1,100 in all,
participants, 16 out of 20, were The Irritant symbol could be found related to children. Dr Joseph Tracey,
familiar with at least five out of the on bottles of bleach, the Flammable clinical director of the NPIC, said that
seven symbols, but many could not on a variety of products including people need to exercise more caution
explain what the symbols meant. aerosol canisters. Rat poisons and when storing chemicals: People
The tables on pp101-102 show weedkillers might feature the Toxic always store bleaches, dish-washing
some of the symbols shown to symbol. tablets and dish-washing fluids under
consumers in the survey and the the kitchen sink. This makes toxic
incorrect explanations they gave. What to do chemicals very accessible, particularly
These warning symbols are put on Consumers who have been to children. Our message is to store
products for a very good reason, poisoned, or suspect that they have, these products high up out of the
namely the prevention of poisoning should proceed immediately to a GP reach of children. Tinned foods, like
beans and peaches, can be stored
under the sink as they are safe if

choice comment children get their hands on them.

Also, on no account should chemicals
be decanted into smaller containers
The Department of Health and Children through a comprehensive advertising addition, the service provided by the such as jam jars, for use in cleaning
should be alarmed at the apparent campaign to warn consumers of the National Poisons Information Centre brushes and the like. In the event of
unfamiliarity of consumers with hazard potential dangers of household (NPIC) must be resourced to provide a poisoning, theres no label on the jam
warning symbols present in most chemicals and to raise awareness and full, 24 hour response service for the jar and this inevitably delays appropriate
homes. This should be addressed understanding of the symbols. In Irish consumer. management of the poisoning.

102 consumer choice MARCH 2006 SAFETY