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John Cavanagh, director of Workplace Training at St John Ambulance, discusses the importance of first aid training to the public sector workplace
St John Ambulance believes that everyone who needs first aid should receive it from those around them - no one should suffer for a lack of first aid trainers. Sadly, every year thousands of people die in situations where first aid could have given them a chance to live. For example, someone could suffer from a heart attack, or a stroke, or choke on a piece of food, anytime and anywhere. As such a large proportion of people’s lives are spent in the workplace, every organisation today – regardless of whether public or private sector – has a responsibility to ensure the safety of its workers by putting in place an effective first aid strategy.
Whilst public sector organisations have a duty to protect their staff, they also have the added responsibility of ensuring the safety of members of the public. And that is where first aid training becomes ever more essential, as all members of the public should be confident that they will receive a minimum standard of care if they were in need of medical attention, whether they are in a school, library or police station.
The importance of first aid
To help inform St John Ambulance’s strategy on how to better teach and provide first aid, much work is carried out measuring and monitoring the public’s perception of it. For example, some believe learning first aid can be time consuming, with well over a quarter (28 per cent) of 18-34 year-olds stating the reason they haven’t learnt any first aid is because of a lack of time. In fact, learning a simple life saving skill such as CPR via an online video tutorial could take less than five minutes.
Another barrier is the fear factor that can be attached to having to learn how to deal with potentially life threatening and distressing situation. This requires communicating the need to learn these skills, but in a reassuring, thorough and practical way, giving people not just the skills, but the confidence to apply them when the time comes.
For others, first aid can simply be seen as a method of dealing with cuts, grazes and sprains, rather than an essential way of swiftly treating serious medical conditions or injuries. This is a possibly the most worrying misconception that must be addressed by raising awareness of the fact that first aid training can, and does, save lives. Having someone who is first aid trained and confident enough to act in the first few crucial minutes of an emergency can be the difference between a life lost and life saved.
All NHS Ambulance services must respond to 75 per cent of Red 1 – immediately life-threatening – incidents within eight minutes, but for a person who has a blocked airway, they could be starved of oxygen in just three or four. This could lead to the casualty suffering irreparable brain damage or, in some cases, death, highlighting just how essential it is for someone to be on hand with the appropriate skills and confidence to carry out treatment. Many first aid situations can be treated immediately, saving a life.
With thousands of people dying annually in situations where immediate treatment could have given them the chance to live, the need for life saving skills cannot be overstated.
Understanding first aid law
Making more people aware of the regulations that underpin first aid in the workplace can only help to foster an environment in which appropriate respect is given to first aid and first aiders. All employers, regardless of business size, have a legal obligation under The Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981 to protect their employees and anyone on their premises. Employers can visit the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website to view an Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) booklet offering guidance on complying with first aid duties.
While specific requirements vary depending on the nature of the business, all employers face a ‘six pack’ of regulation under The Health and Safety at Work Act. These steps are preventative measures to reduce the need for first aid in the first place by making the workplace safer. However, despite the best preparation, accidents do happen and people can fall ill, and this is where first aid training comes in.
Choosing the right first aid strategy
The most successful first aid provisions are those that are tailored to the risks and unique needs of an organisation as part of a wider safety management strategy. A school, for example, will have a very different risk profile to a local authority office. This will affect the type of first aid training and equipment needed. In schools, the treatment of bleeds and head injuries is likely to be a priority, whereas office first aiders report that they are often called upon to give initial treatment to colleagues with medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart conditions.
The different types of incidents and illnesses that may occur in a specific working environment can be overlooked by a generic approach, so by tailoring their first aid provision to the needs of their employees and the public, organisations can make sure that their first aiders are trained to respond in any circumstance.
Some workplaces also present a higher risk than others; employees working in the police or NHS face greater risks than the average office worker. The comprehensiveness of the training first aiders take should be appropriate to the level of risk.
The sensible step-by-step approach for a public sector organisation really is very simple. It should begin by setting out the legal framework of responsibilities around the provision of first aid which, as previously mentioned, underpin first aid in the workplace.
Having outlined an organisation’s legal obligation, it is equally important to also develop an environment where there is an awareness of the importance of first aid, moving away from any misapprehensions around simply providing treatment for minor injuries, but instead as a set of skills that address the most likely risks and enable people to save lives. As part of this employee education, all designated first aiders and the significance of their role should be known and understood by the remaining workforce. In an emergency, every second counts, so understanding the impact a first aider could have on the situation and being able to locate one quickly, is critical.
For this best practice approach to work, it requires an organisation – private or public – to have a sufficient number of people that have undertaken and successfully passed a first aid training course, ideally tailored to the nature of the working environment and the people who work and use the services there.
St John Ambulance holds thousands of training courses across the country every year, including a full suite of first aid, risk assessment, fire marshal, and moving and handling courses, enabling hundreds of thousands of people to be the difference in their workplace – and outside of work – to protect their colleagues, family, friends, and members of the community.