Definition of Poisoning

Poisoning occurs when people unintentionally drink, eat, breathe, inject, or touch enough of a hazardous substance (poison) to cause illness or death.1

Impact of Poisoning on Western Australia

Who does it impact?

In Western Australia between 2014 and 2018, there were 895 deaths due to accidental poisoning.2

In Western Australia between 2015 and 2019 there were:2

  • 11,308 hospitalisations due to accidental poisoning.
  • 56.98% of hospitalisations for accidental poisoning were males.
  • people aged 25 – 44 had the highest incidence of accidental poisoning.

In Western Australia Aboriginal People make up 3.1% of the population, however between 2011 and 2015 9.29% of poisoning hospitalisations were Aboriginal People.2,3

All data for poisoning includes unintentional poisonings by nonopiod analgesics, antipyretics and anti-heumatics; antiepileptic, sedative-hypnotic, anti-parkinsonism and psychotropic drugs; narcotics and hallucinogens; other and unspecified drugs, medicaments and biological substances; and by other and unspecified chemicals and noxious substances.

Where does it occur?

In Western Australia, between 2015 and 2019, the three regions with the highest difference in hospitalisation rate compared to the WA State hospitalisation rate, were the Kimberley (180% higher), Midwest (40% higher) and Wheatbelt (36% higher).2

Impact on the health system

In Western Australia in 2019, there were 2,345 hospitalisations for poisoning, consuming an estimated 6,220 bed days at an approximate cost of $14,016,066.2

Determinants of Poisoning (Risk / Protective Factors)

Social Determinants

Peer pressure and risk taking
Peer pressure and risk taking behaviour can lead to the misuse of alcohol or illicit drugs, which can increase the risk of poisoning, especially among teenagers.1

Environmental, Community and Organisational Determinants

Storage of poisons
The storage of poisons out of reach of children, in the original packaging and the correct use of child-resistant closures on poison containers are important protective factors towards reducing the risk of poisoning incidents in children.4

Behavioural and Individual Determinants

Awareness of poison safety
A lack of knowledge about the safe storage of poisons, appropriate medicine intake and the services offered by the poison information centre all pose as risk factors for accidental poisoning.4

Young children are closer to the ground and are very curious often touching objects and attempting the put objects into their mouths. As children grow they become more mobile increasing their ability to reach objects but lack the awareness of what could place them in harm, putting them at an increased risk of poisoning.4

Effective Interventions

Legislation, Policies, Standards and Codes of Practice

Labelling of poisons legislation
Legislation surrounding the promotion of storing poisons in a safe place has proven effective. This includes ensuring that the phrase “keep out of reach of children” is easily visible on the packaging and instructions outline the appropriate use of the poison.4

Western Australian example

Under the Commonwealth Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 manufacturers of drugs and poisons must comply with the Commonwealth requirements for the labelling and packaging of poisons that are outlined in the Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Drugs and Poisons.4

Child-Resistant closures standards
The introduction of child-resistant closures in Australia in the early 1980’s has proved to be successful in reducing the rates of death and hospitalisation from accidental poisoning.4

Western Australian example

The Australian Standard AS 1928 – 2001 Child Resistant Packages includes the requirements of Child-Resistant Closures on poisons such as oils, alkaline salts and acids.4 This includes requirements around non-enclosable packaging that medicines are usually packaged in, to make sure that the packaging acts as a physical barrier, that medicines cannot leak and that they will show signs of tampering.4

Access to poisons legislation
As a primary intervention, the regulation of the sale of poisons and drugs aims to prevent poisoning by restricting access to poisonous substances.4

Western Australian example

The Poisons Prevention Act 1964 aims to regulate and control the possession, sale and use of poisons in Western Australia, by regulating the licensing and authorisation of people who can sell and produce poisons.4

Environmental, Community and Organisational Initiatives

Poisons Information Centres
In the event of poisoning or suspected poisoning, Poisons Information Centres allow for easy access to emergency first-aid information over the phone. This service helps prevent unnecessary burden on hospital emergency departments, while their expert advice contributes to decreasing the morbidity and mortality of poisoning.4

Western Australian example

The Western Australian Poisons Information Centre is a government funded telephone information service that provides information about poisoning to the general public and health professionals.4 In the event of poisoning or suspected poisoning the centre is able to provide advice to callers about further actions to take and follow up treatment advice.4

Child Safety Centres
Community based initiatives that promote a child safety centre have proven effective in increasing the awareness of poison hazards in the home and improving home safety practices.4 Child safety centres have information and products relating to home safety and increase consumers access to discounted safety devices.

Western Australian example

The Safety Demonstration Home, run by Kidsafe WA, showcases a safe home environment, including awareness raising of poisons hazards around the home and improving home safety practices.4 Kidsafe also run a seasonal childhood injury prevention program, with poisoning prevention being the primary focus in spring.

Parental safety campaigns
Education campaigns that target families with children under five have proven to be effective at reducing the risk of poisoning, educational campaigns advocate for the safe storage of poisons, explain what type of substances can be poisonous, outline appropriate actions to take when disposing poisons and promote the services offered by the Poisons Information Centre.4

Restricting access to poisons programs
Research into initiatives that aim to reduce access to potential poisons around the home have supported the association between access to potential poisons around the home and cases of poisoning.4

Western Australian example

The Return Unwanted Medicines project operates through pharmacies and is backed by funding from the Australian Department of Health and Aged Care, providing a free disposal service for out of date and unwanted medicines.4 This project aims to reduce the likelihood of poisoning from medical products and operates on the principle that reducing the amount of poisons near young children in the home will reduce the chance of poisoning.4

Group and Individual Initiatives

Storage of poisons
Storing poisons out of reach of children and pets, in appropriate places, in the original packaging and disposing of poisons safely reduces the likelihood of poisoning occurring.1

Individual actions
Knowing which plants in your garden are poisonous, keeping the poisons hotline handy and reading poison labels and instructions prior to use reduce the likelihood of poisoning occurring.5

Education programs
Studies have indicated that education programs are effective in changing attitudes and behaviours, but future research is needed to determine if they decrease the poisons hospitalisation rate.4

Western Australian example

Planet Think-Safe is run by The Department of Consumer and Employment Protection and Worksafe WA to provide resources that develop skills, knowledge and safe habits at school, home and in the community.4 As part of the program ‘Think-Safe Sam’ encourages children to spot the hazard, assess the risk and make the change, and includes the storage of medicines and poisons.

Key stakeholders in Western Australia

Other Resources


1World Health Organisation. (2008). World report on child injury prevention. Retrieved from;jsessionid=699DB4DB9A305E235C5C831FC8F834D3?sequence=1
2Data generated using HealthTracks Reporting, by the Epidemiology Branch, WA Department of Health in collaboration with the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRC-SI), March 2021.
3Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016, ‘Western Australia, People’, viewed 5 September 2017, <>
4Arena, G., Cordova, S., Gavine, A., Palamara, P. & Rimajova, M. (2002). Injury in Western Australia: a review of best practice, stakeholder activity, legislation and recommendations. Perth: Injury Research Centre, The University of Western Australia.
5Kidsafe WA. (2019). Poisoning. Retrieved from

Printable Fact Sheet

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