Getting first aid right in the office

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A lack of awareness about the hazards found in offices can lead to inadequate first aid provision by employers, which may place workers at greater risk of injury.

Some employers and employees might have the erroneous feeling that there are no hazards in an office work environment; but in most cases there are, only that the risk from those hazards may be low.

As it stands, there is no legislative requirement for UK businesses to possess standardised first aid kits or a fixed number of first aiders. However, the regulations say that firms must be able to provide adequate treatment in reasonable time following a workplace injury. So what should a first aid kit in the workplace contain and how can employers minimise potential hazards?

The contents of a first aid kit must be based upon the findings of the risk assessment. The First Aid at Work ACOP L74 provides guidance and support for employers on managing the provision of first aid in the workplace, including how to carry out regular risk assessments.

Businesses with multiple sites will need to conduct separate first aid needs assessments for each of their sites. Within a large firm, business models may vary across the different locations, therefore the assessment should identify the specific needs of each site and provide first aid equipment and trained personnel to accommodate this. In complex situations, with multiple first aiders across multiple sites, there may be a requirement for a lead first aider on each site to manage procedures.

While there aren’t regulatory requirements under the Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981 for the contents of a first aid kit, there is a British standard. Employers need to base their list of first aid items on the level of risk within the business and this should be driven by the number of employees in the office and how often staff are exposed to risks.

A common misconception when it comes to office safety and first aid provision is that the office is a low-risk environment, and as such attitudes from employers can be more laid back towards first aid cover. This is often where most businesses fall short in response to workplace injuries.

What are the main hazards in an office space?
A lack of awareness from employers about the nature of hazards in an office environment may reduce the chances of firms responding to an accident within a reasonable time. For most businesses health and safety measures are about prevention, but should an injury occur it is crucial that staff receive treatment onsite in order to comply with the law.

While businesses are responsible for conducting site risk assessments and judging first aid requirements based on the findings, the most obvious static risks to address in an office environment include: incorrectly stored or positioned items such as boxes, handbags or coats and misuse of equipment leading to a person slipping, tripping or falling. Completing the site risk assessment is essential to understand the main hazards onsite and how employers can cover the risks in the form of first aid items.

The more mobile risks that may be difficult to monitor are those where staff put themselves directly in danger of injury. These are mainly caused by inappropriate use of office equipment such as guillotines, knives, scissors, industrial staplers, photocopiers and other electrical equipment leading to cuts, punctures and bruises. While the risk posed by incorrect lifting, carrying and handling of furniture may seem low-level, these actions can cause significant musculoskeletal damage.

It is therefore important that some form of staff training takes place on health and safety in the workplace.



Minimising risk and first aid essentials
Employers can minimise such risks by ensuring that the right first aid equipment is purchased at the outset and briefing employees about potential hazards in the office. Training staff about the safety measures for certain procedures or simply how to use a guillotine, for example, can be carried out with a quick verbal briefing. Another option for businesses is to produce a simple health and safety booklet that informs staff of potential hazards in the office and first aid provision. This can be done in-house and at little cost, especially when considering the price of a workplace injury to businesses should they fail to treat staff adequately.

In terms of the essentials, a first aid kit equipped to BS 8599 is a good start, although it is advisable that employers choose the contents to address the specific hazards and risks within their workplace. The site risk assessment may identify the need for additional items, aside from the core first aid kit, such as foil blankets or disposable aprons.

In terms of specialist equipment, the need for deployment of defibrillators should be considered, although it is not a specific requirement for first aiders to be trained in their use, so additional training will be needed.

Another key consideration is the need for a first aid room, along with the provision of personal or vehicle first aid kits for employees who travel. Employers need to stay vigilant and remember that first aid provision must be sufficient and appropriate in all circumstances and available across all areas where they are liable, including consideration for varying shift patterns and the needs of visitors coming to site. 

Engaging the workforce
Verbal communication is always best in terms of briefing regular employees about office safety and first aid provision. First aid advice on how to use equipment correctly and safely should always come from the first aider who has knowledge of the key risk areas of the business. While it would be ideal for all employees in the business to have some first aid knowledge this is not a requirement in an office environment.

The number of first aid trained staff depends solely upon the hazards and risks within each workplace. However, there is a need for first aid at work (FAW) and emergency first aid at work (EFAW) qualified first aiders to re-train every three years. Additionally, since 2010 HSE strongly recommends that EFAW first aiders attend annual refresher training courses to keep their skills up to date. This training will assist employers in complying with the legal requirements for first aid and avoid a shortfall in first aid provision.

Under current legislation, employers are expected to take guidance from industry bodies, which means they need to openly assess potential health risks in business premises and act accordingly in terms of first aid provision. Rather than having a standardised list of first aid contents or set number of first aiders, it is more suitable for employers to make a judgment based on the guidance and support available, which is easily accessible.

Some employers and indeed their staff may feel that there are no hazards in an office work environment. This is incorrect; there will always be hazards in an office, it is just that the risk from those hazards may be low. This is where awareness is needed through communicating about the risks to the workforce, but employers must take the first steps by regularly reviewing the risks posed within their business. Without such cover and possessing the correct items to treat an injury, a minor accident could become major and lead to a devastating fatality.

Jim Lilley is the European health, safety and welfare senior manager at Office Depot



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