Accidents and incidents can happen at any time, including the season of the year when thoughts turn to entertainment and festive celebrations. The law, however, requires employers to be constantly vigilant, explains Jon Herbert.

When workplace injuries or illnesses occur unexpectedly, which by default they normally do, failing to provide first aid can, in extreme cases, lead to the unnecessary death of casualties. Dealing with the unexpected is the whole point of well-organised first aid.

There is a legal requirement on employers to make sure that employees receive immediate attention. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will prosecute when significant risks are not covered, companies disregard established standards, or their records show persistent poor legal compliance.

However, there is no reason why this should happen given the support, data and information available.

Legal duties

The law places clear legal requirements on employers. The Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981 makes it their duty to provide adequate and appropriate equipment, facilities and personnel to ensure all staff members receive immediate attention if they are injured or taken ill at work.

The regulations apply to all workplaces, including those of companies with fewer than five employees. The self-employed are included, although in the case of essentially office-based home workers working the requirement is generally for no more than the reasonable provision of domestic first-aid equipment.

The term “adequate and appropriate” is largely defined by workplace circumstances. It can include a trained first aider, or first aiders, when needed. It should certainly cover a properly and regularly stocked first-aid box. In many cases, when processes, hazards, or staff numbers require, it may also call for a specific and well-marked first-aid room, preferably close to swift and easy transport links to emergency hospital facilities.

In practice, the regulations do not place a legal duty on employers to provide first aid for “non-employees”, such as the public or children in schools. However, the HSE recommends strongly that when assessing first-aid needs, these categories are included.

The important assessment

The basis of adequate and appropriate first-aid provision is a competent and comprehensive assessment of the individual needs of specific workplace environments. Employers should ensure that an assessment is made which includes all workplace hazards and risks, organisation size, work patterns, accident records, plus local factors that could affect the calculation of what first-aid equipment, facilities and trained personnel are essential.

Assessments should also take into account the needs of any travelling, remote or lone workers, the physical distribution of the workforce, any sites remote from emergency medical services, shared or multi-occupancy sites, plus non-employees.

To help, the HSE provides a free advisory guide and checklist.

Self-employed and offshore

The 1981 Regulations have specific provisions: at one end of the scale for home-based clerical workers, and at the other the offshore energy industries and professional divers.

Self-employed people who drive extensively may identify the need to carry a personal first-aid kit in their vehicles. Many self-employed workers actually work in mixed premises with other self-employed as well as employed staff. While only legally responsible for their own first-aid provision, it generally makes good sense to make joint arrangements with other occupiers. In practice, this often means one person as an “employer” taking responsibility for first aid for all workers at the location. In this case, the HSE recommends that a written agreement is drawn up.

The offshore industry is bound by specific legislation that takes into account the oil and gas, plus wind energy, industries’ unique restrictions and difficulties linked to providing medical and health care cover. The Offshore Installations and Pipeline Works (First-Aid) Regulations came into force in 1989 and specify the larger and more demanding first-aid provisions required by tough offshore primary installation, and ongoing operations and maintenance (O&M) projects, in adverse environments.

In many cases, the appropriate person will be the installation operator who must assess the risks and requirements of remote industrial installations, plus transport and support vessels. This usually defines how many trained and competent first aiders and offshore medics are needed, plus the equipment needed and drug types on hand. A minimum equipment list is produced by Oil and Gas UK.

In the offshore case, visitors and contractors need to be taken into account, including installation commissioning and decommissioning staff. Sick bay provision should be capable of providing medical support for up to 48 hours in serious circumstances. Details are available from the HSE.

The strict provisions for diving are covered by the Diving at Work Regulations 1997. Again, the HSE offers detailed information.

Accidents and health

Health and safety legislation requires employers to keep an accurate record of significant injuries, incidents and cases of work-related disease. The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR) put the onus on employers, self-employed workers and people in control of work premises (known as the responsible person) to report deaths, certain serious accidents (reportable injuries), occupational diseases and specified dangerous occurrences (so-called near misses). Record keeping helps to identify patterns that can help in risk assessments. Insurance companies also often ask to see records pertaining to work-related claims.

Social security law dictates that organisations with more than 10 employees, or those that own or occupy a mine, quarry or factory, must keep an accident book. Accident books can be purchased from the HSE, but don’t have to be in a certain format.

First-aid training courses

Since 1 October 2013, the HSE has no longer approved first-aid training and qualifications at work. As a result, employers have more flexibility in who they appoint to provide training, though various levels of due diligence are needed.

While the HSE no longer judges the quality of individual providers, it does advise that all training providers should be able and prepared to demonstrate how they satisfy criteria set by the HSE. This includes qualifications expected of trainers and assessors; monitoring and quality assurance systems; teaching and standards of first-aid practice; syllabus content; plus certifications.

Additionally, training organisations should be able to meet the assessment principles for qualification laid out by Skills for Health. These expand on competence and qualifications for first aiders, quality assurance systems, how training is delivered, plus how training is assessed.

If first aiders are an identified need, appropriate training is essential. This may be emergency first aid at work (EFAW) training or first aid at work (FAW) training. EFAW prepares first aiders to give emergency first aid to people injured or who become ill at work; FAW includes EFAW but also equips first aiders to apply first-aid over a range of specific injuries and illnesses. Employers are also free to pinpoint additional levels or standards of training they think appropriate to their situation.

FAW involves at least 18 hours of training over a minimum of three days; EFAW requires at least six hours over the minimum of one day.

Again, the level of training and cover needed should emerge from a good assessment.


The life of first-aid competency certificates is three years. Before this period ends, first aiders need to take an appropriate requalification course for a further three-year qualification. Crucially, once a certificate expires, the candidate is no longer legally considered to be competent to act as a workplace first aider. Act early!

Published by Croneri on 13 December 2017



Comments are closed