People at work can suffer injury or sudden illness and employers are required to have in place suitable arrangements to ensure their employees receive immediate attention if such circumstances arise. Mike Sopp considers the importance of determining correct first-aid provision.

Under health and safety legislation, employers are required to provide adequate and appropriate equipment, facilities and personnel to ensure their employees (and others when deemed necessary) receive immediate attention if they are injured or taken ill at work.

The meaning of “adequate and appropriate” will depend on the circumstances of each employing organisation, but to determine this, those responsible for first-aid provisions should carry out an assessment of first-aid needs.

First-aid needs assessment

By undertaking a needs assessment, employers will be able to determine the most appropriate number of personnel, the training that they will require and the equipment/facilities they will need.

The Approved Code of Practice to the Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981 recommends a number of issues to take into account when determining first-aid needs, including:

  • the hazards and risks associated with work activities

  • the size of the organisation and its history of accidents

  • the nature and distribution of the workforce

  • the needs of lone workers and working patterns

  • the potential absence of first-aid personnel.

Other factors may influence the level of provision, including the remoteness of the premises from emergency services and hospitals or the findings of incident statistics and investigations.

Where the work involves particular risks, the needs assessment may indicate that the first-aid responsibilities can be above and beyond those expected in “normal” work environments. This could be because harmful substances are used or a particular work environment could result in some specific hazards.

The Approved Code of Practice to the regulations notes that where the work involves specific hazards, first-aid requirements will be greater and that employers may then need to:

  • provide a sufficient number of qualified first-aiders so that someone is always available to give first aid immediately following an incident

  • provide additional training for first-aiders to deal with injuries resulting from special hazards

  • consider additional first-aid equipment, and the precise siting of this equipment, along with the provision of a first-aid room.

Staff selection

The Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981 require an employer to “provide, or ensure that there is provided, such number of suitable persons as is adequate and appropriate in the circumstances for rendering first-aid to his employees if they are injured or become ill at work”.

First-aiders clearly have to make a commitment to being able to provide an important and potentially life-saving response. To do so, the individual should be able to:

  • assess a situation quickly and safely and summon appropriate help

  • identify, as far as possible, the injury or the nature of the illness affecting a casualty

  • give early, appropriate and adequate treatment in a sensible order of priority

  • arrange for the removal of the casualty to hospital, to the care of a doctor

  • remain with a casualty until handing them over to the care of an appropriate person.

To achieve this, a number of qualities are required. According to L74: First Aid at Work — Approved Code of Practice and Guidance, these factors will include the individual’s:

  • reliability, disposition and communication skills

  • aptitude and ability to absorb new knowledge and learn new skills

  • ability to cope with stressful and physically demanding emergency procedures

  • ability to be able to leave their normal duties immediately and rapidly in response to an emergency.

Other factors to consider will include the location of any would-be first-aid staff on the laboratory premises and their ability to attend incidents rapidly.

The Health and Safety Executive provides some guidance on the ratio of either emergency first aid at work or first aid at work to trained personnel required and this can be referred to when determining the number of staff that need to be trained.

Where it has been determined that fully qualified first-aid personnel are not necessary, the minimum requirement is for an employer to appoint a person to take charge of the first-aid arrangements, including looking after the equipment and facilities and calling the emergency services when required.

Training, facilities and equipment

Employers can send suitable employees on either a 6-hour (minimum) emergency first aid at work (EFAW) or an 18-hour (minimum) first aid at work (FAW) course, based on the findings of their first-aid needs assessment.

Currently, first-aid trained staff must have a valid certificate of competence in FAW issued by a training organisation approved by the HSE, or in EFAW issued by a training organisation approved by the HSE or a recognised awarding organisation.

Additional training, eg in the use of defibrillators, may be undertaken as an extension to the basic training or as a separate course. It does not need the approval of the HSE, but the standard first-aid certificate may be endorsed to verify that special training has been received.

Prospective first-aid training providers must be assessed to ensure their suitability. In these circumstances, evidence should be sought that the provider has received approval to run courses. This will be in the form of a “certificate of approval”.

However, it should be noted that the Government is seeking to revoke HSE/awarding organisation approval, thereby giving employers “greater flexibility in their choice of training provider”. It is proposed that guidance will be issued to assist employers in selecting a suitable training provider.

While the Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981 require employers to provide adequate and appropriate equipment to ensure that employees receive immediate attention if they are injured or taken ill at work, there is no mandatory list of contents for first-aid boxes or kits. The HSE does not approve or endorse particular products, although it does provide a suggested list of contents for first-aid kits within the Approved Code of Practice.

In addition, BS 8599-1 recommends the number of particular components and kits required, and sets the minimum level to which first-aid kits should conform. In practice, those responsible for first aid need to determine the contents of a first-aid kit as part of the first-aid needs assessment. This means that employers have the option of:

  • providing access to a first-aid kit that complies with BS 8599 and matches the needs assessment, or

  • providing access to a first-aid kit that matches the needs assessment but does not comply with the requirements of BS 8599.

Similarly, the provision of first-aid rooms is not a legal requirement, but the needs assessment may determine that a first-aid room is required. This is likely to be necessary “where there are higher hazards such as in chemical industries or on large construction sites, and in larger premises at a distance from medical services”.

Organisations may also need to provide additional equipment, such as:

  • eyewash stations, which provide an effective means of treatment when chemicals come in contact with the eyes

  • safety showers, which provide an effective means of treatment in the event that chemicals are spilled or splashed onto the skin or clothing.

Further information

  • L74: First Aid at Work — The Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981. Approved Code of Practice and Guidance

  • HSG212: The Training of First Aid at Work. A Guide to Gaining and Maintaining HSE Approval

Last reviewed 4 June 2013