Unintentional hazardous substances exposures in children (0–14 years)

This section presents statistics on unintentional hazardous substances exposures in children (0–14 years), where contact was made with the National Poisons Centre (NPC) in New Zealand during 20172019.  

Children under five years of age continue to be the age group with the highest rate of unintentional hazardous substances-related hospitalisations and hazardous substance injury notifications from the Hazardous Substances Disease and Injury tool.

In New Zealand, poisoning is the fifth-leading cause of non-fatal unintentional injury in children aged 0–14 years (Safekids Aotearoa 2015). Even though the outcomes of paediatric poisoning incidents are rarely fatal, they lead to substantial health service use. Illness and injury from hazardous substances are largely preventable and treatable.

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NPC provided risk assessment and management advice to more than 1,000 exposure events per quarter for children under the age of 15 years. 

The exposure rate has remained relatively stable between 2017–2019 (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Unintentional hazardous substance exposure events for children under the age of 15 years, by year/quarter (crude rate per 100,000)

‘Household anti-infective/cleaners’ were the most common substance category reported to NPC in children aged one year

One-year-olds may be at greater risk of acute ‘household anti-infective/cleaners’ exposures because they are more likely to put things in their mouth and spend time on the floor, where many cleaners are used or may be found.  Children aged one year were more than twice as likely as children aged two years to be exposed to hazardous substances from ‘household anti-infective/cleaners’ (eg, toilet bowel disc, household bleach, multi-purpose cleaner, sanitiser) (Figure 2). 

Figure 2: Unintentional hazardous substance exposure events, by top four substance categories and age group, 2017–2019 (crude rate per 100,000 population)

The top three substances reported to the NPC were dishwashing liquid, toilet bowl discs and essential oils

Dishwashing liquids were the most common substances ingested unintentionally by children aged 0–14 years (645 out of 14,077 total exposures), followed by toilet bowl discs (637 exposures) and essential oils (574 exposures; Figure 3). Approximately 93% of the exposures occurred in the home environment.

Figure 3: Unintentional hazardous substance exposure events by top four classifications, top 20 substance names, 2017–2019



Children of European/Other ethnicity had the highest reported rates of exposures

The rate (504.2 per 100,000) in the use of the NPC service for European/Other children was twice the rate of 252.9 per 100,000 for Māori children (Figure 4).

Figure 4:  Unintentional hazardous substance exposure events, by prioritised ethnicity, 2017–2019 (crude rate per 100,000 population)

Eighty-seven percent of the exposures did not require a medical assessment

From 2017 to 2019, a total of 14,077 (87%) paediatric patients aged 0–14 years were given advice for self-treatment or that no treatment was required, while 246 (2%) cases required more information before definite advice could be given. A total of 1,513 patients (11%) were referred for medical assessment.

Substances that children may potentially be exposed to at home have different risk profiles for causing harm. Exposures to some substances present more risk than others. For example, the highest proportion of medical referrals per substance category was for paediatric patients who had ingested clove oil (80.0% referred), followed by drain cleaners (54.5%) and hair dyes (25.7%; Table 1).

Table 1: Unintentional hazardous substance exposure events, by classification break down, medical referral status, 2017–2019


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Information about the data

Unintentional hazardous substances exposures in children (0–14 years); calls to the National Poisons Centre in 2017–2019

Source: National Poison Centre 2020

Definition: The number of substances exposure calls to the New Zealand National Poisons Centre involving unintentional exposures to hazardous substances in children aged 0–14 years. In the context of poison centres, ‘exposure’ refers to any route of contact (eg, ingestion, inhalation, dermal, etc)  between a person and a substance.

For more information about the data, see the metadata pdficon small


1.Safekids Aotearoa, Position Paper: Child Poisoning Prevention. Auckland, Safekids Aotearoa, 2015.

2.National Poisons Centre. 2021. Preventing poisoning in the home. URL: https://poisons.co.nz/articles-and-info/common-poisons-around-the-home/view/preventing-poisoning-in-the-home/ (accessed 5 March 2021).

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