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First aid at work: what you need to know

By Rebecca Milligan

We look at the Health and Safety Executive requirements around first aid in the workplace, and where to find training providers.
woman's hands practicing CPR in first aid training

All employers have a legal duty to ensure their employees have access to ‘adequate and appropriate’ first-aid equipment and expertise at work. In extreme situations, rapid access to first aid can make the difference between life and death. And even if you only need a plaster, it makes sense to have one to hand. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) - the national independent watchdog for work-related health, safety and illness - also strongly advises that you make first-aid provision for any contractors, freelance workers or members of the public in your workplace, too.

Find out more about statutory sick pay, or read on for more about first aid at work.

If you’re self-employed, you’re also required by law to ensure you’ve got the necessary equipment to provide first aid for yourself at work. If you’re working on a site, you may be covered by whoever is running the site. However, in a domestic property, you will be responsible for providing your own first aid.

So what do you need to do?

First-aid assessment

Start by carrying out an assessment of first-aid requirements in the workplace. This will relate to the size of the business and cover any risks and workplace hazards. You’ll need to take into account factors such as:

  • the type of work you do
  • particular hazards connected to your work
  • your working patterns
  • number of employees and their needs
  • any history of accidents
  • remoteness of your work sites
  • distribution of workers
  • shared work spaces
  • needs of lone workers, remote workers and travelling workers.

Some first-aid training providers, such as St John’s Ambulance or the British Red Cross, will help you with workplace assessments. St John’s Ambulance has an online requirements calculator, which helps you work through what you need.

Your assessment should help you to work out what equipment you need, whether or not you need trained first aiders on site and, if you do, how many and to what level they should be trained.

Minimum requirements

Low-risk environment

The minimum requirement for a small, low-risk workplace, such as an office, is that there should be:

  • a first-aid kit in place
  • someone responsible for first-aid arrangements (eg restocking the first-aid kit or calling emergency services in the event of an accident)
  • information for employees about first-aid arrangements.

The number of kits you need will depend on the size and layout of your workplace. You should have enough kits to cover the number of people working there. For a small office with fewer than 25 people, one small kit is adequate.

It sounds obvious, but you should ensure all your staff know where the first-aid kit is located. A British Red Cross survey found that 75% of employees didn’t know where to find the first-aid kit at work.

Providing information for employees involves putting up notices in public areas to let them know what the arrangements are, who is responsible for first aid on site, and/or who the trained first aiders are.

High-risk environment

Minimum requirements for high-risk workplaces – for example working with machinery, tools, or chemicals; in confined spaces; at heights; or with inexperienced workers – are naturally greater than in an office.

You’ll need a bigger proportion of first-aid kits:

  • one small kit for up to five employees
  • one medium kit for 5-25 employees
  • one large kit per 25 employees.

You’ll also need an appropriate number of first aiders on site. Consider additional training for first aiders to deal with specific injuries related to the hazards you deal with, extra first-aid equipment, and maybe providing a first-aid room.

First-aid kits

You can buy ready-prepared first-aid kits that should all comply with British Standard BS 8599-1. There’s no legal requirement to include particular items, but your kit’s contents should reflect the risks in your workplace. For example, if there’s a risk of burns, there should be cream and bandaging to alleviate that.

Useful items could include:

  • general first-aid information leaflet
  • individual, sterile, waterproof plasters
  • sterile eye pad
  • sterile, waterproof triangular bandages
  • individual, sterile, wound dressings
  • cleansing wipes
  • antiseptic cream
  • insect bite cream or spray
  • disposable gloves
  • safety pins
  • scissors.

Always dispose of any used items. Be aware that some items may have use-by dates, and a nominated first-aid representative should hold responsibility for keeping the equipment and information up to date.

First-aid qualifications

If your workplace has more than 25 employees, or you are involved in potentially hazardous work, you need to have trained first aiders in the workplace and/or undertake some first-aid training yourself.

The HSE recommends the following levels of first aiders:

There’s a variety of first-aid training providers available. One option is voluntary organisations such as St John’s Ambulance, the British Red Cross or St Andrew’s First Aid. There are also training providers aligned with trade associations, and independent external providers. Some of these offer regulated qualifications, while others are entirely independent.

It is the responsibility of any employer or business owner to ensure they choose a reputable training provider. You don’t need to notify anyone of your choice, but it’s good practice to keep records of your choice and the reasons for it, in case of inspection by the HSE or local authority standards agency.

There are different levels of first aid qualification available – the two most common are:

  • emergency first aid at work (EFAW)
  • first aid at work (FAW).

Emergency first aid at work (EFAW)

An EFAW course should take place over a minimum of one day and include at least six hours of face-to-face training and assessment.

After completing an EFAW syllabus, the trained first aider should be able to:

  • understand the role of the first aider, including reference to:

 – the importance of preventing cross-infection

 – the need for recording incidents and actions

 – use of available equipment.

  • assess the situation and circumstances in order to act safely, promptly and effectively in an emergency.
  • administer CPR.
  • administer first aid to a casualty who is:
  • unconscious (including seizure)
  • choking
  • wounded and bleeding
  • suffering from shock.
  • provide appropriate first aid for minor injuries (including small cuts, grazes and bruises, minor burns and scalds, small splinters).

First aid at work (FAW)

A FAW course is more detailed than an EFAW course, and covers the EFAW syllabus plus other areas. It should take place over a minimum of three days and include a minimum of 18 hours of face-to-face training and assessment.

Following successful completion of the FAW course, the first aider should be able to do everything included in the EFAW course, and also:

  • administer first aid to a casualty with:

– injuries to bones, muscles and joints, including suspected spinal injuries

– chest injuries

– burns and scalds

– eye injuries

– sudden poisoning

– anaphylactic shock

  • recognise the presence of major illness (including heart attack, stroke, epilepsy, asthma, diabetes) and provide appropriate first aid.

First-aid qualifications should be refreshed annually. An EFAW requalification will be another day, while a FAW requalification course can take place over two days, with a minimum of 12 teaching hours.

For more information or assistance, the voluntary aid organisations British Red Cross, St John’s Ambulance and St Andrew’s First Aid have more information about first aid online.

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