Babies and toddlers have a thirst for exploration that knows no bounds. Keeping them safe at home may, at first glance, seem relatively simple, but hidden dangers may be lurking among the household products you use every day. This simple guide will help keep you and your family safe.
Detergents, fuels, bathroom sprays, garden sprays, spa and pool chemicals – even some cosmetics and toiletries¬ – can cause harm if not used or stored correctly.
“The best way to keep yourself and your family safe is to read the product label,” says Fiona Thomson-Carter, the General Manager for approving chemicals at the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA). The EPA is the government agency that sets the rules for safe use of chemicals in New Zealand.
“Even products that claim they are natural, organic or environmentally friendly can be harmful: check the label so you’re comfortable with the contents before you buy,” Dr Thomson-Carter says.
Labels will often include words that alert you immediately to their harmful effects. Flammable, Caution, Warning, Danger or Poison, and phrases like Keep out of reach of children, or Use only in a well-ventilated area indicate the product can be harmful.
If you have any of these, ensure they are out of sight and out of reach by storing in a locked cupboard or up high where children can’t reach them.
Some products may also have ‘At-a-Glance’ symbols that warn special precautions should be taken.
Dr Thomson-Carter adds: “Our goal is to keep people and our unique environment safe. Make it yours too, by knowing these symbols and always following the label directions.”
Commonly used symbols
Internationally used symbols indicate the level of harm a product may cause if not used or stored correctly. Keep yourself and others safe by learning what they mean.
Indicates that the product contents are flammable. May be found on hairspray, turpentine, and some paints. Keep these products away from lighters and other sources of direct heat and/or flame.
Fire accelerants (oxidisers)
These will feed fires and explosions. Pool chemical labels may include this symbol. Keep them well away from heat sources and other flammable substances.
Chemical burns (corrosive)
Oven, drain cleaners and other strong cleaning products can be corrosive, cause severe burning and eye damage. Wear gloves and safety glasses when you use them.
Gas bottles containing CO2 for making soda water may include this symbol. Keep gas bottles out of direct sunlight, and store them in a well-ventilated area.
Serious health effects
This means severe poisoning and product contents may be fatal if ingested or in contact with your skin. Think about whether you really need to use these products.
Moderate health effects
Contents may could cause rashes, induce sleepiness or affect your breathing. Washing powder and some cleaning agents may include this symbol.
Long-term health effects
Products with this symbol can cause long-term and serious health issues. Petrol, fire- starters and DIY products may include this symbol.
These products, such as garden sprays and pool chemicals, can harm the environment. Follow the instructions carefully to limit their impact.
Notes for editors
The EPA decides on applications for the release of hazardous substances under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act. We assess the benefits, risks and costs of hazardous substances in safeguarding people and managing the environment. Visit our website: www.epa.govt.nz