Are you looking to establish an effective first aid program in your workplace? Or, are you wondering whether the one you already have in place is a quality one? Either way, it's a good idea to review the basics.

What is first aid?

First aid may be defined as 'the immediate care given to an injured or suddenly ill person. First aid does not take the place of proper medical treatment.' In other words, it is limited to a one-time treatment and follow-up observation. Another definition is - 'the immediate treatment of an ill or injured person to stabilize life until the person is turned over to professional medical providers.' If you use this definition you can begin to look at supplies and training needed to sustain life until the ambulance arrives.

Relevant standards

Are there any established standards to guide your search? Yes. OSHA states in 29 CFR part 1910.151 that employers shall ensure that in the absence of a clinic in 'near proximity' to the workplace, an onsite person shall be trained to render first aid and supplies shall be readily available.

Several OSHA standards include provisions for first aid; general industry - CFR 1910.151; construction - CFR 1926.50; Hazardous Waste and Emergency Response - CFR 1910.120; and First Aid and Lifesaving Facilities - CFR 1917.26

In 1998, ISEA, the safety equipment association, published a revised edition of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) 'minimum requirements for workplace first aid kits'(or ANSI standard Z308.1-1998). It states that each employer should evaluate their workplace and identify what additional items are appropriate for them.

Training & supplies

Do we need company-provided first-aid supplies? OSHA says we do, if we are not in 'near proximity' to a clinic or hospital. That is, if it takes no more than a three- to four-minute response time if a life threatening or permanently disabling illness can occur or a 15-minute response time where a life threatening or permanently disabling injury is likely to occur.

What training is needed and who needs the training?

Unless the facility is in 'near proximity,' the employer must provide first aid training to at least one person per shift. Training can be conducted by The National Safety Council, American Red Cross or any other organizations as long as the program follows the guidelines set by: the Emergency Cardiac Care Subcommittee; American Heart Association; the Journal of the American Medical Association; and the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

What supplies do you need? Where can you get advice?

You can ask the occupational physician, the Red Cross, or your insurance carrier. Any first aid products supplier/ manufacturer should also be able to assist you. Use the revised ANSI standard as a start. Also, look at OSHA's personal protective equipment (PPE) standard. Having considered these sources, list the type of injuries that occur or could occur in your workplace. Then make a list of needed first aid supplies suitable for those injuries.

Basic guidelines

Consider the following injuries and possible supplies needed:

  • burns: hydrogel dressings, burn spray;
  • cuts: stretch gauze, tape, bandages to stop bleeding, cut cleaners for infection prevention;
  • eye injury: eye washes, acid neutralizers, eye magnets for removing small metal particles;
  • shock: emergency blanket, emergency oxygen unit; for
  • fractures: splints;
  • contusions: cold packs, ace bandages;
  • bee stings: sting extractors, pain relief swabs;
  • splinters: forceps or tweezers;
  • biohazards: gloves, CPR masks, antimicrobial cleansers, skin cleaners; and
  • general wellness: non-prescription cold medicine, and head and stomach ache remedies.

Mickey Black is president of Respond Systems in McKenzie, Tenn. He is also vice president and on the Board of Directors of the First Aid Distributors Association. He can be reached at (901) 352-7078. E-mail: