OSHA guide addresses workplace first aid

Guide identifies four essential elements

Occupational health and safety is becoming as technical and complex as the businesses and industries it is a part of. But after prevention, the fundamental means of saving lives and minimizing damage from injury or exposure is first aid.

OSHA has compiled a new guide on best practices for first aid in the workplace, to help employers and occupational health professionals develop at-work first aid programs and keep those programs up to date. Where occupational health nurses are not on site full-time, training workers in first aid can be a valuable component of the site's safety program.

"Best Practices Guide: Fundamentals of a Workplace First-Aid Program" was released by OSHA in May, and describes the agency's vision of how employers might develop, implement, and update a first aid program that fits their worksites and their employee populations.

"Workplace first aid… is a key component of any comprehensive safety and health management system," says OSHA administrator Ed Foulke.

The new OSHA guide identifies four essential elements for first-aid programs to be effective and successful:

  • identifying and assessing workplace risks;
  • designing a program that is specific to the worksite and complies with OSHA first aid requirements;
  • instructing all workers about the program, including what to do if a coworker is injured or ill;
  • evaluating and modifying program to keep it current, including regular assessment of the first aid training course.

Additionally, the guide suggests management leadership and employee involvement, worksite analysis, hazard prevention and control, and safety and health training.

When planning first aid training, OSHA recommends that training courses include instruction in general and workplace hazard-specific knowledge and skills, incorporating automated external defibrillator (AED) training in CPR training if an AED is available at the work site, and periodically repeating first aid training to help maintain and update knowledge and skills.

The new best practices do not constitute a standard or regulation. The guidelines create no new legal obligations, nor do they change existing OSHA standards or regulations.

According to OSHA, a workplace first aid program at work should include the following elements:

  • identifying and assessing the workplace risks that have potential to cause worker injury or illness;
  • designing and implementing a workplace first aid program that aims to minimize the outcome of accidents or exposures, complies with OSHA requirements relating to first aid, provides sufficient and appropriate first-aid supplies and equipment, and assigns and trains first aid providers (see box below);

    OSHA recommendations for first-aid provider training

    Training for first aid providers in the workplace should include the following elements, according to OSHA's best practices guide:

    • prevention as a strategy in reducing fatalities, illnesses, and injuries;
    • interacting with the local EMS system;
    • maintaining a current list of emergency telephone numbers (police, fire, ambulance, poison control) accessible to all employees;
    • understanding the legal aspects of providing first aid care, including Good Samaritan legislation, consent, abandonment, negligence, assault and battery, and state laws and regulations;
    • understanding the effects of stress, fear of infection, and panic; how they interfere with performance; and what to do to overcome these barriers to action
    • learning the importance of universal precautions and body substance isolation to provide protection from bloodborne pathogens and other potentially infectious materials; learning about personal protective equipment (gloves, eye protection, masks, and respiratory barrier devices); appropriate management and disposal of blood-contaminated sharps and surfaces; and awareness of OSHA's bloodborne pathogens standard.

    Source: Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Best Practices Guide: Fundamentals of a Workplace First-Aid Program, available at www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3317first-aid.pdf.

  • instructing all workers about the first aid program, including what workers should do if a coworker is injured or ill. Putting the policies and program in writing, including languages other than English if applicable to the work force, is recommended to implement this and other program elements;
  • providing for scheduled evaluation and changing of the first aid program to keep the program current and applicable to emerging risks in the workplace, including regular assessment of the adequacy of the first-aid training course.

The best-practices guide is available for free at www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3317first-aid.pdf.