First aid in the workplace
All workplaces must provide first aid equipment, facilities and in some circumstances, trained first aiders.
First aid is the immediate treatment or care given to someone suffering from an injury or illness until further advanced care is accessed or the individual recovers.
The aim of first aid is to:
- preserve life
- prevent illness or injury from becoming worse
- relieve pain, if possible
- promote recovery
- protect the unconscious.
First aid can reduce the severity of an injury or illness and in extreme cases, could mean the difference between life and death.
Businesses (or PCBU)'s responsibility
Every workplace has a legal responsibility for ensuring adequate first aid provisions.
A ‘person conducting a business or undertaking’ (PCBU) is a broad term used throughout work health and safety legislation to describe all forms of modern working arrangements, which we commonly refer to as businesses.
If you are a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking at a workplace you must ensure:
- first aid equipment is provided for the workplace
- each worker at the workplace has access to the first aid equipment
- access to facilities for the administration of first aid are provided
- an adequate number of workers are trained to provide first aid at the workplace or
- workers have access to other persons who have been trained to provide first aid treatment.
Where multiple businesses are involved in the same work activities or share a workplace, first aiders and / or first aid facilities may be shared.
The PCBU should consult with workers about what equipment and facilities are needed to administer first aid at the workplace and inform workers about the first aid supplies and equipment that are available.
Workers must take reasonable care of their own health and safety and other people’s health and safety at the workplace.
Workers must comply with reasonable health and safety policies and procedures they have been provided. For example, workers would be expected to comply with the procedures for first aid and for reporting injuries and illnesses.
Determining your first aid needs
To meet your duty as a PCBU, you should consult with your workers when determining your first aid needs. This duty to consult is based on the understanding that worker input and participation improves decision-making about health and safety matters.
The WHS legislation requires that a PCBU making decisions about their first aid requirements must consider:
- the nature of the work being carried out at the workplace
- the nature of the hazards at the workplace
- the size and location of the workplace
- the number and type of workers and other persons at the workplace.
It is important to consider the requirements of your workplace and your workers when determining your first aid needs. For example, workers in factory environments exposed to multiple hazards such as; unguarded machinery, biological, chemical, temperature extremes, working at heights, and electrical risks are at greater risk of sustaining an injury requiring immediate first aid treatment.
How many first aiders does your workplace need?
The number of first aiders / first aid officers required for a workplace may be determined by the type and nature of the workplace, such as whether the workplace would be considered low-risk or high-risk.
Workplace risk level
Type of workplace
Ratio of first aiders to workers
Retail shops, offices, libraries or art galleries
Factories, motor vehicle workshops or forestry operations
Remote high risk
All night convenient store and service station workers, long distance freight transport drivers
(Table adapted from the NSW Government: Code of Practice; First Aid in the Workplace, January 2020).
In addition to these ratios, consideration should be given to other factors that may affect the need for extra first aiders, such as:
- the arrangement of work (multiple shifts or overtime)
- seasonal work (sudden increase in the number of workers)
- large numbers of other persons present (schools, shopping centres, childcare centres) or
- workplaces that have unique hazards (fitness centres, amusement rides).
Where it is not practical to have a trained first aider on site, workers must have suitable means of accessing a trained first aider and the ability to contact emergency services. This may include an arrangement with a nearby medical practice or neighbouring business, who are aware of the types of injuries likely to require treatment and who are accessible during the hours of business operation. Workers should receive information, instruction and training regarding these arrangements.
First aid procedures
First aid procedures should provide workers with a clear understanding of the first aid facilities at their workplace and consider a worker’s language skills and reading ability. These procedures may include:
- instruction and training on first aid arrangements
- how to report injuries and illnesses at the workplace
- the communication equipment and systems to be used when first aid is required, especially for remote and isolated workers
- who is responsible for the first aid kits and facilities and how often they should be checked and maintained
- precautions to avoid exposure to blood and body substances and contaminated material
- access to debriefing or counselling services to support first aiders and workers after a serious workplace incident
- record keeping of first aid treatment given
- Register of Injuries
Access to trained first aiders
Access to qualified first aiders and first aid treatment at the workplace should be easy for all workers to reach immediately, or as close to this as practical. First aiders should be easy to identify and locate, particularly if they move around the workplace during their shift.
Appropriate qualifications of first aiders
In order to be a first aider, the person should hold a nationally recognised qualification issued by a Registered Training Organisation (RTO) for the nationally endorsed first aid unit/s of competency which give them the skills to administer first aid. First aiders should be provided with appropriate training for the level of risk (likelihood of serious injury or illness) identified at the workplace.
First aiders should attend training on a regular basis to refresh their first aid knowledge and skills. Refresher training in Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) should be carried out annually and first aid qualifications should be renewed every three years.
First aid kits
All workers must be able to access a first aid kit. This will require at least one first aid kit to be provided at their workplace.
In the event of a serious injury or illness, quick access to the first aid kit is vital. The kit should be kept in an accessible location and /or close to areas where there is a higher risk of injury or illness.
The first aid kit should provide basic equipment for administering first aid. The kit should include items to treat cuts, scratches, punctures, grazes, splinters, muscular sprains and strains, minor burns, amputations and or / major bleeding wounds, broken bones, eye injuries and shock.
Extra equipment may be needed in remote workplaces, for example for serious burns, breathing difficulties or allergic reactions.
First aid kits can be any size, shape or type to suit your workplace. Each kit however, should be large enough to contain the necessary items, be immediately identifiable, contain a list of contents for that kit and be made of material that will protect the contents from dust, moisture and contamination.
First aid kits for mobile workers
A portable first aid kit should be provided in the vehicles of mobile workers, for example taxi drivers, sales representatives, bus drivers and inspectors. These kits should be safely located, so as not to become a projectile in a collision.
Maintaining your first aid kit
A person at the workplace should be nominated to maintain the first aid kit. This includes monitoring usage, replacing items used, checking for required items, checking items have not deteriorated, ensuring sterile products remain sealed and are within their expiry dates on a regular basis to make sure the first aid kit is fully stocked when needed.
Other first aid equipment and facilities
In addition to first aid kits, it is important to consider if any other first aid equipment is necessary to treat injuries and illness at the workplace. This should be based on an assessment of the type of work and the likelihood of workers suffering a serious injury or illness at work. Workers should be involved when deciding whether other first aid equipment or facilities are required at your workplace. Other first aid equipment and facilities may include:
- Permanent or portable eyewash and shower equipment
These provide on-the-spot decontamination and enable workers to immediately flush away any hazardous substances that may cause an injury.
Emergency showers are designed to flush a person’s head and body. In the case of any eye emergency, emergency showers should not be used as the pressure of water flow may damage the eyes in some instances.
Eyewash stations should be designed to deliver fluid to both eyes at the same time at a pressure that will not damage the eyes further.
- First aid rooms
These should be established where it would be difficult to administer first aid unless a first aid room is provided. For example, a first aid room may be beneficial where there is a higher risk of serious injury or illness occurring that requires immediate first aid and / or possible further treatment by an emergency service.
These are recommended for low-risk workplaces with 200 workers or more, or high-risk workplaces with 100 workers or more.
- An automated defibrillator (AED)
An AED may be provided to reduce the risk of fatality from cardiac arrest where there is a risk to your workers from electrocution, a delay in the arrival of ambulance services or where there are large numbers of members of the public at your workplace.
AED’s are designed to be used by trained or untrained people and they provide step-by-step instruction on how to use them and perform CPR.
- Asthma-relieving inhalers and spacers and epinephrine auto-injectors (such as an EpiPen)
Asthma-relieving inhalers and spacers are used to treat asthma attacks.
Epinephrine auto-injectors are used for the treatment of anaphylaxis or severe allergies.
These should be stored according to the manufacturer’s instructions and first aiders should be provided with appropriate training on their use.
If workers tell the PCBU about their need for either an asthma-relieving inhaler or an auto-injector, discussing with them where they plan to store their medication, such as their desk or vehicle, will assist the worker to receive treatment as quickly as possible in the event of an emergency first aid situation.
If a decision is made to make non-prescription asthma-relieving inhalers and non-prescription auto-injectors available, the PCBU should ensure that first aiders and workers are aware these medications have been added to the first aid kit.
Where a decision is made to include non-prescription asthma-relieving inhalers and non-prescription auto-injectors in the first aid kit, first aiders must always ensure they work within the guidelines of the first aid training organisation that issued their qualification. First aiders must be suitably trained to recognise an asthma attack or anaphylactic reaction and must be qualified through their first aid training to administer an asthma-relieving inhaler or auto-injector.
Workers with allergies and prescription medication
Many workplaces have workers who suffer from allergies and health conditions that require prescription medication. PCBU’s may ask workers to volunteer information about any allergies or health conditions that might require first aid, however, they cannot force a worker to tell them this information unless it is a lawful and reasonable request, that is, it relates to the requirements of their role.
As some asthma-relieving inhalers and auto-injectors are prescription medications, the worker is responsible for having these medications with them at work.