first aidNo worker expects to be injured or wants to feel ill while on the job. However, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), workplace illnesses and injuries happen more often than you’d think. Nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses totaled nearly 4 million for private and public sector workers in 2010, resulting in an incidence rate of 3.5 for every 100 workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also reports that more than 12 workers die on the job every day.

Based on these facts, having first aid cabinets and safety supplies on-site is essential to reduce injuries and illnesses. If these products are not readily available, your business and employees may face numerous risks and liabilities. Injuries and illnesses can result in reduced worker productivity, attendance, satisfaction and ultimately negatively impact a business’ bottom line. Equipping every workplace with well stocked first aid cabinets and providing employees with proper emergency response training ensures effective solutions are within reach when they are needed most.

Safeguarding Employee Health and Wellness

Keeping employees feeling their best and preparing them for potential emergencies should be top priorities for employers (see “What Could Go Wrong?”). Workplace injuries and illnesses often result in days away from work, job transfer or restricted work. In some cases, however, the impact of an injury or illness can be reduced using products found in a first aid cabinet, limiting the need for additional medical attention or significant time away from a job. For instance, a cabinet with glucose solutions can help employees whose blood sugar levels become low and prevent a diabetic emergency.

Issues also arise when workers become ill at work or knowingly come to work while sick, also known as “presenteeism.” Employees feeling under the weather usually are less productive and have the potential to cause accidents due to a lack of focus and energy, thereby putting their own and their coworkers’ health and safety at risk.  

When a first aid cabinet is not available, employees may bring their own medicine to work and share with others who need pain relief. This increases the chance that a worker will mix pills incorrectly, take too much medication or have an adverse allergic reaction. First aid cabinets guide employees on how to use remedies to solve issues such as headaches and also supply the workplace with products to aid in more serious emergencies. Along with that, first aid resources assure employees that an employer cares about their health and wellness.

Limiting Cost and Liability

Workplace injuries and illnesses are not only common and increased liability, they carry significant costs. In fact, the National Safety Council finds that the average direct costs for an injury total $7,000, $38,000 for a disabling injury and more than $1 million for a fatality. Expensive accidents and workers’ compensation claims present the most direct costs to companies. If injuries and illnesses are considered work-related and OSHA recordable, they must be recorded on an employer’s 300A form. Failure to properly record these cases gives OSHA the right to impose fines up to $70,000 for each willful offense. Indirect losses from accidents include presenteeism, absenteeism, replacement costs for damaged machinery or property, and reduced productivity due to new employee learning curves and accommodation of recovering employees. These indirect costs can range from three to ten times the direct costs of an injury or illness.

According to OSHA regulation (29 CFR 1910.151), when a clinic or hospital is not in near proximity to a workplace, at least one individual on-site must be trained to provide first aid and necessary supplies must be readily available. Although OSHA requires adequate supplies to be available, they don’t require specific contents in first aid kits and cabinets. Thus, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) sets minimum content requirements for first aid kits (See “Fill It Up), which many states have implemented as their recommended requirements. To avoid fines and lawsuits for inadequately protecting workers from hazards, businesses can adopt on-site first aid resources.

Often, employers rely on purchasing first aid supplies through retail merchants. Although these products usually provide lower upfront costs, indirect expenses still exist. Restocking first aid cabinets and choosing inventory requires time spent away from work and knowledge on what to fill the cabinet with. Relying on retail products can also lead to employer liability risks and OSHA/ANSI non-compliance. For instance, allowing or supplying open bottles of over-the-counter medications can become a legal issue if an employee suffers an adverse reaction.

Preparing Your Work Environment

Numerous studies and research by OSHA have confirmed that injury and illness prevention programs are effective in reducing incidences. Additionally, creating a culture where safety is a top priority can help small, mid-sized and large businesses engage workers in the program. First aid cabinets are a fundamental tool used to establish safe and healthy work environments and should be incorporated into prevention programs. The following guidelines can assist businesses looking to set up a first aid cabinet program:

1. Strategically Position First Aid Cabinets: Because workplaces vary in size, a business should evaluate its layout to ensure enough cabinets are conveniently located and accessible. The number of employees on-site and the hazards of the work environment must also be considered. As a rule of thumb, it should never take an individual more than three minutes to reach a first aid cabinet.

2. Go Beyond Compliance: OSHA requires a minimum of 19 different products in first aid cabinets, although employers are free to choose which additional products to include. Ultimately, businesses should aim to exceed this amount in order to address a wider range of hazards and potentially prevent the need for further medical attention. Essential supplies include emergency items, bandages, antiseptics and antibiotics, over- the-counter medications, burn relief products and glucose solutions for diabetic emergencies. Industries prone to specific hazards should keep additional kits on hand. For example, restaurants should maintain extra burn products

3. Equip with Simple Solutions:Choosing products with generic, recognizable names will reduce confusion about the designated use of products and enable workers to easily find relief. Color-coding supplies based upon their purpose will also allow employees to quickly identify products and handle emergencies in a more expedient manner. For instance, all trauma items may be packaged in red.

4. Reduce Risk and Liability: Including non-drowsy formulas and a variety of product options in a first aid cabinet helps maintain worker productivity without increasing the opportunity for accidents. Additionally, by offering individually sealed, tamper-evident packets, cross-contamination and the risk of over-medicating can be avoided. Employers’ first aid suppliers should make certain that product labels meet FDA compliance by including: purpose, use, application instructions, active and inactive ingredients and warnings.

5. Supplement with Training:Training familiarizes employees with the products contained in first aid cabinets and encourages quick emergency response. First aid courses should include instructions about the proper use and application of products and be repeated to refresh current employees and introduce material to new employees. Videos and posters can also be incorporated into safety meetings and throughout the workplace to increase awareness.

6. Diligently Maintain Inventory:Keeping first aid cabinets fully stocked and organized with the appropriate products confirms OSHA/ANSI requirements are met and helps ensure that products are not expired. Ideally, a cabinet will have a log to detail when stock was last provided and when the next restock will occur.

As workplace injuries and illnesses continue to pose a problem for employers and employees, preparation and quick response during emergencies is critical. When properly maintained, first aid cabinets allow employers to be ready for emergencies, prevent escalation of injuries and illnesses, eliminate some OSHA recordable cases and reduce direct and indirect costs of operating a business.

“What Could Go Wrong?”

First aid cabinets provide a way for employees to attend medical emergencies. Ideally, they will be trained in proper response for the following

  • Heart attacks
  • Strokes
  • Asthma attacks
  • Diabetic emergencies, including diabetic coma, insulin shock, hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia
  • Seizures
  • Burns

“Fill It Up”

According to the ANSI standard, Z308.1-2003, all first aid kits must contain a minimum fill, or a list of supplies, sizes and quantities. The following list is the minimum necessary to comply with the standard. However, businesses are encouraged to incorporate additional items, such as antibiotic treatments, compress bandages, burn dressings, cold packs and eye covers, in first aid kits and cabinets to handle specific workplace hazards.

Performance Requirement Section Item and Minimum Size or Volume Minimum Quantity
Item Absorbent Compress, 32 s. in., with no side smaller than 4 in. 1
Item Adhesive Bandages, 1 x 3 in. 16
Item Adhesive Tape, 3/8 in x 5 yd. total 1
Item Antiseptic, 0.14 fl. oz. application 10
Item Burn Treatment, 1/32 oz. application 6
Item Medical Exam Gloves 2 Pairs
Item Sterile Pad, 3 x 3 in. 4
Item Triangular Bandage, 40 x 40 x 56 in. 1

Cintas is a leading provider of first aid and safety products and training. For more information, please visit or call 1-877-937-2811.