The complexity of modern workplaces and the laws of physics entails that accidents at work are more or less inevitable. Given that we lack foreknowledge of the future, the way that we design and organise our workplaces to ensure the safety of all who use them requires careful attention to hazards and the likely consequences of workplace practices. One of the best examples of a safety measure designed with this wide coverage in mind is the humble first aid kit. Precisely because we don’t know exactly what kinds of injuries may occur at a workplace, the first aid kit is designed to be stocked with the resources needed to treat injuries which are reasonably likely to occur in any workplace, albeit in a basic way. For example, all first aid kits should include, among other things:
Gauze and saline (for dressing and cleaning wounds)
Cotton bandage (to treat bleeding)
Tweezers/forceps (for removing foreign objects)
Furthermore, different workplaces have a higher likelihood of certain kinds of injuries than the baseline, either due to location, the nature of the work done, or both. While there are certain things that all first aid kits should contain, the specific contents will depend upon these factors; for example, kits in a metalworking plant may require more materials to treat burns, and workplaces involving the frequent use of chemicals may require more saline and eye pads in their kits, etc. Importantly, pain-relief medications (like paracetamol) should not be included in first aid kits, and this for two reasons. First, pain relief does not fall under the scope of first aid, which is more narrowly concerned with the immediate treatment of injury, and second, allergic reaction to analgesic medications are not uncommon. For ease of use, first aid kits should include a list of their contents inside. An example of a detailed content list can be found in Appendix C of Worksafe’s 2016 Compliance Code for first aid in the workplace.
The provision of first aid kits falls under the duty of care of the owner/operator(s) of the workplace, as expressed in Worksafe’s Guide to workplace amenities and first aid 2017, 2nd Edition: “Those who manage or control things that create health and safety risks in the workplace are responsible for eliminating or reducing the risks, so far as is reasonably practicable”. More specific guidelines for this provision can be found in the 2008 Compliance Code for First Aid in the Workplace, also by Worksafe. Under their ‘proscribed approach’, first aid kits should be supplied at the following rate:
In low-risk workplaces (in which severe injuries are not likely):
- 1 kit for the first 10-50 employees
- 1 additional kit for every 50 employees up to 200
- 1 additional kit for every 100 employees above 200
For high-risk workplaces:
- 1 kit, including specific first aid modules, for up to 25 employees
- 2 kits including specific modules for up to 50 employees
- 1 additional kit including specific modules for every 50 employees after this threshold
For workplaces without timely access to emergency services:
- At least 1 kit for every 25 employees
Maintenance of the contents and condition of first aid kits is another vital element in securing workplace health and safety. Replenishment of contents should be undertaken after use and any reusable equipment (such as metal tweezers) should be thoroughly cleaned as soon as possible. Even if kits are not used, regular inspection and maintenance should take place every 12 months to ensure that they can perform their function when needed.
The placement of first aid kits is also a vital matter for consideration. Since first aid is the initial treatment offered to someone who has been injured, it is important that they are installed in areas in which injuries are most likely to occur (e.g. in rooms or areas around plant with sharp edges or with a high chance of chemical exposure) in addition to locations which are easy to access generally. Ease of access can be further ensured by highlighting locations of first aid kits on site maps and floor plans, and through storing kits in unlocked containers (typically painted white with a green cross for quick identification). Worksafe’s 2016 Compliance Code points out that for sites with multiple buildings or multi-storey offices, first aid kits can function as a supplement to more centrally-located first aid facilities – such as a first aid room with installed equipment like eye sinks and examination beds.
Mobile workers and tradespeople might assume that the obligation to provide a safe workplace doesn’t travel with them, but that is not the case. Even a sole trader is required to obtain and store a first aid kit in their vehicle if that vehicle functions as their workplace (as is the case for taxi drivers, inspectors, and sales representatives, etc.). Vitally, the kit must stored in such a way that it does not become a projectile and potentially injure someone in the event of a collision.
Since employers and site managers lack a crystal ball by which to divine the accidents that will occur at their workplace, the next best approach is to intelligently and thoroughly prepare for those accidents which might occur. The provision, proper maintenance, and clear labelling of first aid kits is one of the best proactive measures one can take to deal with workplace injures before they happen.