First-Aid in the workplace

February 8, 2006
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According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary, first-aid is defined as “emergency care or treatment given to an ill or injured person before regular medical aid can be obtained.” When a co-worker is injured, our first reaction is to help them using any means necessary. When proper procedures are not followed it can lead to additional complications and injuries.

In today’s workplace, first-aid can mean any action from dressing a small cut with a bandage to administering CPR. For employees, it is critical to know what is expected of them during a first-aid situation and the proper way to respond in each scenario.

What’s your liability?

The Good Samaritan Law helps to protect from blame those who choose to aid others who are injured or ill. In the United States, these laws are intended to reduce a bystander’s hesitation to assist for fear of being prosecuted for unintentional injury or wrongful death.

In many states, the Good Samaritan Law states that “one must be working within their training and means” in order to be covered by the law. For instance, if someone who is not trained in CPR attempts CPR, they can be liable if anything happens to the victim, including death. It is important that safety professionals understand the Good Samaritan Law in their state and how it affects their workplace.

Many workplaces and public buildings have AEDs (automatic external defibrillators) on hand in case of cardiac arrest. Legally speaking, unless you are trained to use an AED, you are working outside of your means or training if you use one. If there is an AED at your worksite, all of your employees should be trained in how to properly use the device. It is also recommended, if not required, that you have at least one first-aid trained person per shift at your site. Their training should include CPR and how to properly use an AED if one is available onsite.

Two categories

There are two categories of first-aid treatment: 1) aid for minor injuries that do not require emergency medical assistance; and 2) temporary aid to stabilize the victim until professional medical assistance arrives.

Most injuries and illnesses that occur in the workplace require minor first-aid care. These types of injury may include sprains and strains to muscles and joints, rashes and blisters, minor cuts, bruises and burns. For these types of injury one does not normally need professional medical assistance, and treatment can be administered with a first-aid kit or at a nearby clinic.

Serious injuries include spinal injury, unconsciousness, electrocution, cold- or heat-related emergencies, heart attacks and strokes. Like any disaster or emergency situation, the first person on the scene must remain calm and not panic. Survey the scene and determine if EMS (emergency medical service) should be contacted. If the area contains immediate danger to yourself, others or the victim, do not put your safety in jeopardy. For instance, if a co-worker is lying unconscious on top of an exposed live wire, call for EMS immediately and remove yourself from the scene. If you are unsure, it is always best to err on the side of caution and contact EMS.

Bodily fluids

When providing fist-aid the possibility of transmitting a bloodborne disease exists. Bloodborne diseases can exist in bodily fluids including blood, saliva, semen and breast milk. The possibility of transmission may be low, but the consequences of not properly protecting yourself are serious. Always treat all bodily fluids as though they are contaminated to ensure that you are not exposed.

Disposable non-latex examination gloves are the first defense against a bloodborne disease. Employees should wash their hands immediately after providing care to an injured person. Employees should alert their supervisor in the event that blood or other fluids spilled onto any surface so proper clean-up procedures can take place. It may be helpful to establish a first-aid document that includes a checklist of important procedures, such as clean-up, and emergency contact information.

First-aid training

First-aid training should be interactive and can be supplemented with video training. Designated first-aid personnel at your site should be sent to a class where they learn CPR and lifesaving measures hands-on. The American Red Cross offers training courses on CPR nationwide ( Everyone in your location should also have bloodborne pathogen awareness training to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

Sidebar: What’s in a first-aid kit?

Your onsite first-aid kit should include, but not be limited to:
  • band-aids in various sizes
  • sterile gauze in various sizes
  • adhesive cloth tape
  • antiseptic wipes or another type of disinfectant
  • disposable non-latex examination gloves
  • antibiotic ointment
  • hydrocortisone cream
  • scissors
  • an instant cold compress.

Sources: Wikipedia the Free Encyclopedia; Copyright (C) 2000, 2001, 2002 Free Software Foundation, Inc.

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