Chemical Smart



he Centre for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] reported 2014 as the first year to see unintentional poisoning replace motor vehicle traffic-related injuries as the leading mechanism of injury mortality (death). The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia reports that “almost 2500 children are admitted to hospital every year due to poisonings.

We all use chemical products everyday, from hand sanitizer to pharmaceuticals and medicines and from toothpaste to household bleach. They seem harmless enough because we know how to use them.  We also tend to ‘under-think’ the risks because they usually perform a positive function for us that improves daily life.

Two main contributing factors make household chemicals extremely dangerous to children:

  1. They often come packaged in bright colourful containers not unlike food products. Manufacturers do this to make them stand out on the supermarket shelf so that consumers will choose them first. But to a child who cannot read, a bottle of chocolate milk powder does not look that different to a bottle of granular caustic soda. A bottle of sleeping pills does not look that different to a container of hard lollies or sweets.
  2. They are often formulated with perfumes and scents specifically designed to mask the chemical smell and make the product pleasant to use. e.g. Lemon scented bleach or strawberry scented laundry liquid. These smell “tasty’ to children, not unlike the juices and drinks they might consume.

It only takes a second for a disaster to occur. They can swallow, drink, smell, or spill chemicals on themselves in a flash.

Two strategies can together minimise risks:

  1. Careful chemical housekeeping is of course a good idea. Keep things out of reach and tucked away from prying eyes. But is this enough?
  2. Children are naturally inquisitive and they are going to find things on their own. They will open cupboards when you are not around and they will look in bedside drawers. Empowering your children to make the right decisions when they come across containers and substances they do not know is the essential second strategy.

Combining both is the best way to keep children safe.

The extension activity in this module offers the opportunity to adopt both strategies in a fun exercise to do together.


• Some dangerous chemicals might not have warning labels.

• Some dangerous chemicals might not be in their original containers.

• Some dangerous chemicals might smell like something nice to drink.

• Dangerous chemicals can be found in places where they can be confused with food and drinks.

• If you are not sure, its best to just leave it alone!


• Can you always see if something is a dangerous chemical?

• Do chemicals always have warning labels?

• Can dangerous chemicals sometimes smell like something nice to drink?

• If you come across a bottle and you are not sure what it contains, what are you going to do?


“If you’re not sure

or if it’s not your own,

It’s always better to

just leave it alone!”




Kids love treasure hunts. Instead of just insisting that they “don’t go there’, turn your child’s natural curiosity into an effective tool to keep them safe.

We have included a printable checklist which you might want to use as you go.  Let Zi, Zack, Zanzi and Flash help you go on a house wide ‘ treasure’ hunt for dangerous chemicals around the house.

Let your child open cupboards and drawers and hunt for chemicals everywhere. Encourage discovery and then deal with each item they find.

Go from areas to area: The kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms, outside sheds or the garage, etc.

This exercise will also bring to your attention chemicals that are really not in the right place and which you might also consider moving to safer places out of reach just to make double sure.

Afterwards, a conversation to re-enforce what you have discovered together will also be a good thing. The checklist can also be coloured in and will make a fun refrigerator or bedroom wall decoration.


Download and print.

Collect one from each topic.


For a bit of fun, here’s a completion certificate to print out and complete.

Try to collect them all!