By Diane M. Calabrese / Published May 2016
Know what to do until medical attention is available. It can save the life of a colleague who is injured or experiences a sudden illness. Most adults have a first-aid course somewhere in their past, thanks to scouting or school activities. Yet contractors, distributors, and manufacturers increasingly strive to provide formal training to their employees.
Why do it? “Having trained personnel on our staff gives our employees a feeling of comfort, knowing that if something were to happen, someone trained will be there to take care of them,” says Dean Steger, safety manager at Mi-T-M Corporation in Peosta, IA.
“Our employees who were trained in basic first aid were also trained in CPR [cardiopulmonary resuscitation] and automated external defibrillator [AED],” says Steger. “We have a total of 26 employees at our facilities who have been trained in basic first aid, CPR, and AED skills.”
Training is not mandatory, but the goal is to have trained personnel across all areas. “None of our employees are required to complete a first-aid course,” explains Steger. “We asked individuals if they would be willing to be first-aid trained. We asked people in a variety of areas if they would like to be trained so there was coverage throughout our facilities.”
Employees at Steger’s company are trained in-house by the American Red Cross. The American Heart Association, the National Safety Council (NSC), and many private firms also provide first-aid training. Prices and options (on-site, off-site, Web) vary, and every employer can find a fit with budget and time.
Having first-aid supplies within easy reach is important. “Employees have access to first-aid cabinets located conveniently throughout their work areas,” says Steger. “Our first-aid cabinets have a variety of supplies for employees to use, including gloves, band aids, burn cream, cold packs, etc.”
OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] has established standards and directives for compliance officers related to medical and first aid (www.osha.gov/SLTC/medicalfirstaid/standards.html). For instance, certain industries are required to have specific items in their first-aid kits (i.e., they are mandatory items), and certain industries are required to provide mandatory training in CPR.
A contractor, distributor, or manufacturer can get an exact list of items that should be included in a first-aid kit by working with OSHA. A general kit will include these items: gauze pads (4 x 4 inches and 8 x 10 inches), adhesive bandages, gauze roller bandage at least two inches wide, two triangular bandages, wound cleaning agent (if only moistened towelettes), scissors, blanket, tweezers, adhesive tape, latex gloves, resuscitation bag, airway or pocket mask, two elastic wraps, splint, and directions for requesting emergency assistance (for anyone in a remote location where 911 is not an option).
The special criteria for first-aid standards vary with the setting. OSHA has special requirements for hazardous waste sites. Eyewash stations and shower equipment are required where chemicals, including battery acid, are in use.
An employer will ultimately determine what level of first-aid resources are required on site. The employer will also give directions about when outside help should be called to the site, instead of just allowing the employee to go to a health-care provider for follow-up care on something like a cut. “Our employees are trained to call 911 if the injury is severe,” says Steger. “Employees are trained to only treat minor injuries.”
Contractors have employees moving from one place to another and require kits in their vehicles. “We equip our work vehicles as well as our workshop with a first-aid kit,” says Andrew Snyder, co-founder (with Jon Welker) of Agent Clean, which is headquartered in Walcott, IA. “Every truck and workshop has SDS [safety data sheet] books that outline proper first aid in the event of chemical exposure. Our procedures manual includes basic first-aid procedures in the event of equipment or gear accidents and injuries.”
The team members at Snyder’s company are given first-aid instruction. “Our training includes first-aid training as well as PPE [personal protective equipment] and safety training,” he explains. “Currently, we use various print sheets as well as in-house training videos to train employees,” says Snyder. Part of the training is deciding what level of action is required.
“Employees are expected to exercise common sense when dealing with injuries,” explains Snyder. “If it can wait until they reach an urgent care clinic, then aid will be administered by professionals. If the injury is severe or life threatening, employees are expected to administer what first aid they can while waiting for emergency personnel.”
Training enables employees to carry forward and do what needs to be done in a composed and methodical way. In a litigious society, some worry that if first aid is given it can add to liability. In an emergency situation, however, doing the right thing—the best one can to help—is the prudent course. “The liability possibility due to a minor injury sustained due to first-aid administration pales in comparison to liability due to inaction,” says Snyder.
Like employees at all licensed and registered businesses, Snyder’s employees are covered by workers’ compensation. Another good source of assistance and recommendations about first-aid training and kits is the private or state insurer responsible for the workers’ compensation policy.
Full preparation carries through to the final step regarding any workplace injury: reporting. “In the event of an accident, we require it to be reported to a field or office manager immediately,” says Snyder. Not every minor injury in the workplace requires reporting beyond the in-house system, however. Scrapes, scratches, and minor cuts that occur in the workplace generally do not have to be reported to OSHA as a workplace injury.
Being prepared to act is a must. Responding to a person in need of medical assistance until professionals can take over fully expresses one’s humanity. An emergency situation is no time to worry about liability. “If aid is needed, I’d rather it be given and deal with liability repercussions if the question arises later,” says Ray Burke, owner, Spray Wash Exterior Cleaning in Tallahassee, FL.
As a mobile contract cleaning company, Burke takes the same approach Snyder does. “We supply basic first aid kits on all our trucks and in the shop,” he explains. Burke has not required formal first-aid training, but he has employees who are trained. Two of them are licensed firefighters/paramedics/EMTs [emergency medical technicians], and they have, of course, extensive first-aid training.
There is no way to avoid all accidents. “But proper workplace training can certainly minimize the risk of accidents occurring,” says Burke. Anything that enhances awareness and keeps employees alert—including first-aid training and refreshers—contributes to lower risk of incidents.
Again, deciding what constitutes the optimal first-aid kit will be a matter of what OSHA requires for a particular setting as well as special considerations. In recent years, the significance of including tourniquets and knowing how to use them has been stressed. So, too, has the importance of having available fast-acting antihistamines for an individual overcome by a severe allergic reaction to a bee or wasp sting—a danger that is increasingly real and deadly.
In addition, with the concern over blood- and saliva-borne pathogens, the protocols for administering CPR have changed. The goal now is not to have contact with a victim’s mouth. Similarly, when assisting someone who is bleeding, it is a priority if at all possible to put on latex gloves—especially if one’s hands are chafed—before intervening.
Excellent resources for staying on track regarding readiness to provide first aid abound. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is just one familiar entity that provides suggested contents for a first-aid kit.
Best Practices Guide: Fundamentals of a Workplace First-Aid Program (www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3317first-aid.pdf) is a superb 28-page, open-source document that offers a good overview of all that should be kept in mind when developing and maintaining a first-aid program. It’s a superb resource.
Another good resource is the American Red Cross Ready RatingTM tool (www.readyrating.org). Use the online tool—a series of simple questions—to evaluate the preparedness of your workplace.
The Red Cross tool stands as a good reminder that it’s not just the day-to-day cuts and abrasions that employees must be ready to respond to or the occasional trip and fall, but it’s also the events far beyond our control. Those events include damaging winds, flooding, earthquakes, and terrorism.
Many medical facilities offer advice about first aid. Contractors, distributors, and manufacturers who are developing in-house refresher training can find a great deal of information by visiting sites such as the one offered by the Mayo Clinic, which offers a list of what a first-aid kit should include. (See www.mayoclinic.org/first-aid/first-aid-kits/basics/art-20056673.)
Drugstores and other outlets sell first-aid kits. Whichever method of obtaining kits is used, remember that nothing lasts forever. Kits must be maintained and expired items replaced.
Time invested in first-aid basics makes the difference when called upon to help. The more one knows, the better one can react without anxiety to keep an injured person quiet, stem bleeding (if necessary), and await medical professionals.