Back to basics: General first aid

Conducting a proper risk assessment, providing the right education and training to workers are important ingredients for a successful first-aid program.

Back to basics: General first aid
First-aid responders need the right materials to be able to do their job when the time comes, so make sure you have adequate supplies.
Glyn Jones

Emergency response planning and emergency preparedness are leading indicators of proper loss control post-incident. Being informed about the best first-aid techniques and practices is essential for any company. Employees face a variety of risks including cuts, burns, muscle strains, asphyxiation and medical emergencies requiring medical aid. If there isn’t a proper first-aid response process in place and if employees aren’t ready to respond and provide assistance until medical aid arrives, a victim’s condition may worsen, and injuries can become far more serious. This will not only lead to longer recovery times for the worker, but it will result in greater lost productivity for the organization.

In most jurisdictions, there is legislation in place setting out the minimum requirements for first-aid training and the need to keep first-aid supplies on hand. This will include specifying the number of employees to be trained, the level of training required and the types of first-aid supplies to be kept onsite. Generally, history has shown us that it’s good business sense to exceed these legislative minimums — much like other aspects of occupational health and safety. Investing in keeping your employees safe and well trained will net big returns and create a competitive advantage.

A proper risk assessment allows you to determine the requirements for your first-aid program. What types of incidents could reasonably occur in your workplace? Consider your work processes and where people are at work. Is it possible there could be incidents such as falls, contact with hazardous machinery and exposure to harmful substances? The greater the risks, the more you need to be sure your first-aid processes are appropriate for the scope of response required. Your risk assessment should be written and shared with the operations team. Remember that while the regulator will not review or approve your program, a written plan is part of a well-developed plan to manage OHS risk.

Know where your closest medical facility is and consider emergency transportation services that are available. If you are in a 911 call area with ambulance service to hospitals, the better your outcome in the event of an incident. If the hospital or clinic is further away, the better your first-aid processes need to be to ensure employees get good treatment in the event of an incident. Responding in a timely manner can mean the difference between life and death, so it is crucial that your system is appropriate for the size and scope of your operations.

Get the right education and training for all first-aid responders. The legislation will set the minimum, but based on the risk assessment, you may see the need to train every employee and increase the level of education and training provided. There is a range of first-aid training available from one-day emergency first aid, two-day standard first aid, all the way up to 10-day wilderness first aid. Nowadays, there are also many specialty types of first-aid training, including psychological first aid, pediatric first aid, health-care first aid and first aid for professional drivers. Annual refresher training may be specified by the training agency, but to be sure your team is ready, a more regular refresher along with practice drills may make sense. Make sure you get the right education and training to meet your expected needs.

First-aid responders need the right materials to be able to do their job when the time comes, so make sure you have adequate supplies. The legislation provides the minimum standards for basic first-aid kits. The results of your risk assessment will provide the more detailed assessment necessary to allow you to be sure you are ready with the right stuff when the time comes. You need to inspect the kits regularly. The legislation may speak to this, but depending on the nature of your workplace, a more regular inspection may be required.

Keeping the workplace safe involves three basic elements: steps to prevent or minimize incidents, adequate supplies and proper first-aid training. The employer needs to properly assess what is needed for training and supplies to maintain readiness for any emergency situation that may occur.

Glyn Jones is a partner at EHS Partnerships in Calgary, and he is a consulting occupational health and safety professional with 30 years of experience. He also provides program design and instructional support to the University of New Brunswick’s OHS and leadership development certificate programs. He can be reached at gjones@ehsp.ca or you can follow him on Twitter @glynjones_ehsp.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of COS.