When composing a first aid kit for your workplace, consider the most common injuries, and the types of machinery, materials, and hazards to which workers are exposed.

What goes into a first aid kit? If you've ever had to figure that out, you know OSHA won't help you. Perhaps you've asked an occupational health doctor or nurse, the Red Cross, or your insurance carrier. Your safety equipment supplier should also be able to tell you what products are best suited for your type of work environment. Many suppliers will even service your first aid kit, cleaning, checking, and replacing used items. If you're putting together a new kit for your workplace, or re-stocking an old one, this article will give you some tips to consider.

ANSI standard to come

Soon, standardized guidance on stocking first aid kits will be available to health and safety managers. The Industrial Safety Equipment Association, a manufacturers' group including 15 makers and distributors of first aid products, is drafting recommendations for stocking a first aid kit, expected to be adopted by the American National Standards Institute by 1997. Currently, ANSI Z308.1 standards address unitized first aid only, and do not list minimum contents.

The new standard will require basic items for a first aid kit to meet ANSI standards. Of course, the standard won't be sufficient to cover every type of injury and work environment. Employers will choose a kit from three main classifications -stationary for indoor settings, portable for indoor settings, and portable for outdoor settings- and add supplies to address specific work hazards and prevalent injuries.

Custom-built kits

In fact, customizing per-industry is a new trend in first aid kit packaging. For example, a food service or restaurant industry first aid kit will contain items like sprays, cold treatments (packs and sprays), ointments and hydrogel dressings for burns, rubber finger cots and cohesive bandages for protection from sharp knives or moisture, and metal detectable bandages that can easily be retrieved when lost in vats of food. Hydrogel water-based dressings are some of the newer treatments for minor injuries, especially for cooling and soothing burns, reducing pain and swelling, and escalating the healing process while preventing scabbing.

A first aid kit for a lumber or wood processing plant would have more splinter-removing instruments and eye-flushing treatments. An automotive repair shop should stock more finger and knuckle bandages, spray bandages that resist oil and solvents, and eye and burn treatments including flushing agents for battery explosions.

When composing a first aid kit for your workplace, consider the most prevalent injuries, and the types of machinery, materials, and hazards to which workers are exposed. Also take into account the number of employees at your facility to stock a sufficient quantity of each item.

New concerns

Two developments that have influenced first aid kit fills in recent years are increased concerns about infectious and contagious diseases -HIV, hepatitis, and tuberculosis- and heightened awareness of lost-time injuries. As diseases become more prevalent, many people, even those trained in CPR, are reluctant to give first aid to strangers. For that purpose, kits now contain latex gloves, antimicrobial solutions, wipes and sprays to protect against pathogens, and one-way valve airway masks (some new airways can filter out airborne bacteria to prevent the CPR giver from becoming infected).

Many companies also keep non-prescription medications like analgesics, pain relievers, antacids, cold and hay-fever remedies, and throat lozenges, to treat those ailments. Such medication not only keeps people on the job, but allows them to work more safely and efficiently than if they were in discomfort. Most of these medications are now unit-dosed in packets or pouches of two per-unit, with directions and cautions in self-dispensing boxes to reduce or eliminate any perceived liabilities associated with dispensing from a bottle.

For protection against hazardous chemicals and poisons, neutralizing agents and antidotes should be kept in a first aid kit, too. Check with the Poison Control Center in Atlanta (800-282-5846) or call a local hospital or burn center to determine which neutralizers and antidotes are right for your work environment.

As for the first aid kit itself, a gasket should make your kit water and dust resistant, and brackets should allow the kit to be hung on the wall and easily removed to take to the accident scene. Contents should be clearly labeled with easy-to-open packaging and clear instructions for proper use. Products should be so simple to apply that even an injured person could treat himself. Build your first aid kit the way you buy insurance: Hope that you will never need to use it, but be as best equipped as you can be, in case you do.