Australia: Harrison

Child injuries: the stories behind the statistics
December 2008

Harrison is the youngest of five children in an Australian family. One morning, his mother Lisa was in the lounge putting a video on for her older child. In this brief period, 18-month-old Harrison opened a kitchen cupboard, removed the cap from the dishwasher detergent container and swallowed some of the powder.

Although the container had a child-resistant cap, it needed to be twisted twice in order to be correctly secured. Instructions to this effect, though, were not displayed on the packaging and Lisa had mistakenly thought the container was securely closed when she felt the first click.

Lisa heard his cry and ran to the kitchen to find him vomiting blood. An ambulance rushed Harrison to hospital where doctors were unsure if he would survive. He did, but the lasting consequences of his injuries, which have made feeding very complicated, have changed his life and the lives of his family members.

Harrison's story and those of other toddlers who had similar incidents were quickly picked up by the media. Within weeks the manufacturing company had placed warning labels on all containers alerting consumers to the two-click mechanism. Later, the container was redesigned to include a flow limiter and a single-click closure.

Government agencies and nongovernmental organizations lobbied for changes in the law. As a result, Australia now has a law requiring that all dishwasher powders be distributed in child-resistant containers with specific warning labels if the pH of the content exceeds 11.5. Detergents with a pH of greater than 12.5 have been removed from the market. The powder swallowed by Harrison was extremely alkaline – with a pH of 13.4.

Harrison lying on the grass and laughing.
Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation
Harrison's incident led to wide media coverage and changes in law.