Last reviewed 9 May 2012

Employers are required to provide adequate and appropriate equipment, facilities and personnel to ensure their employees receive immediate attention if they are injured or taken ill at work. Mike Sopp examines what is “adequate and appropriate”.

First-aid needs assessment

No fixed levels of provision exist. Rather, each laboratory manager needs to assess what facilities, equipment and personnel are appropriate by way of an assessment of first-aid needs.

The Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) to the Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981 (HSFAR) recommends a number of factors that may be taken into account when determining first-aid needs, including the hazards and risks associated with work activities; the size of the organisation and history of accidents; the nature and distribution of the workforce; the needs of lone workers and working patterns; and 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. By undertaking the needs assessment, managers 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 ACOP notes that where the work involves hazards such as the use of chemicals, 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 and training

Training of staff for first-aid purposes is more than just sending personnel on a recognised course by an approved provider. Thought should be given to the level of first-aid requirements, selection of appropriate staff to be trained, the selection of a training provider who can meet the demands of the requirements and then ensuring that staff members retain the necessary level of skill and competency to perform their duties.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides some guidance as to the ratio of either Emergency First Aid at Work or First Aid at Work trained personnel that are required and this can be referred to by the laboratory manager.

Being a first aider clearly entails having to make a commitment to be 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 factors are required. According to the HSE's 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 normal duties to attend immediately and rapidly 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.

Following the assessment of first-aid needs and the selection of appropriate staff suitable training will be required. First-aid personnel must gain a certificate of competence from a training organisation that has been approved by the HSE.

As already mentioned, additional training may be required for laboratory-based first-aid personnel, eg in how to treat chemical-related injuries. This training may be undertaken as an extension to the basic training or as a separate course and does not need the approval of the HSE. However, the standard first-aid certificate may be endorsed to verify that special training has been received.

Equipment and facilities

Among other matters, HSFAR requires 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 and the HSE does not approve or endorse particular products, although it does provide within the ACOP a suggested list of contents for first-aid kits.

The British Healthcare Trade Association has been working with the British Standards Institute and the HSE to create a new British Standard for first-aid kits in the workplace. This is due to changes in training protocol, first-aid treatment and an increased concern with infection management.

As a result, BS 8599-1 has been published, which recommends the correct number of particular components for small, medium, large or travel-size kits and also recommends how many kits are needed depending on the size of the organisation.

BS 8599-1 takes into account more modern and functional products encompassing a wider range of common workplace risks. It sets the minimum level that first-aid kits should conform to and is likely to be followed by manufacturers of first-aid kits and potentially for anyone who assembles first-aid kits in the workplace.

It is not a regulatory requirement under HSFAR to purchase kits that comply with the standard. In practice, the laboratory manager needs to determine the contents of a first-aid kit as part of the first-aid needs assessment. This means employers have the option of having access to:

  • a first-aid kit whose contents comply with BS 8599 and matches the needs assessment, or

  • a first-aid kit whose contents match the needs assessment but do not comply with the requirements of BS 8599.

As well as potentially providing a first-aid room, laboratories may be supplied with additional equipment, eg eyewash stations which provide an effective means of treatment when chemicals come in contact with the eyes and safety showers that provide an effective means of treatment in the event that chemicals are spilled or splashed onto the skin or clothing.

Finally, it is essential that all personnel within the laboratory environment are made aware of the first-aid procedures and provisions, eg through induction training and the use of signage including the location of first-aid personnel and how they may be contacted in an emergency situation.

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

  • BS 8599-1:2011: Workplace First-Aid Kits. Specification for the Contents of Workplace First-Aid Kits.