St John Ambulance claims first aid training could counter the OHS culture of fear 2


First aid is one of the most neglected, even though vital, safety resources in workplaces. Although most workplaces will have someone trained in first aid working for them, this is rarely integrated into a workplace let alone into any preventative safety management processes.

Recently St John Ambulance in England, according to one newspaper report, claimed that

“Better training would have a greater effect on the health and safety culture than changes to regulations discussed by the [UK] Government…”

The St John Ambulance CEO, Sue Killen [not the most appropriate surname for a CEO of a lifesaving organisation] spoke about the UK Prime Minister’s “culture of fear” saying by asking:

“…what is causing this fear? At St John Ambulance, we believe it comes from a lack of knowledge – specifically, first aid knowledge.

We think that one of the key factors underlining this whole argument about health and safety culture is the nation’s attitude towards first aid….

If more people knew first aid, they would have the confidence to deal with emergencies when they occur. Instead, a lack of skills and the nervousness associated with this leads to events being cancelled, communities disappointed and shock headlines.”

Killen overstates the occupational health and safety (OHS) significance of first aid training. OHS aims for harm prevention and first aid deals with the aftermath of failure. The causal link is mostly anecdotal where trained first aiders realise that they never want to use the skills they have been given and so have an increased awareness of hazards. Having worked in the first aid training sector for some years in the 1990s, I can vouch for this realisation but I doubt the hazard awareness is sustained for very long when the first aider returns to their workplace and the culture operating there.

St John Ambulance in Victoria regularly claimed that first aid training could result in a reduction of injuries of, from memory, 30%, but the research report on which the claim was based was of a small sample of workers in the Tasmanian forestry industry in the early 1990s or the 1980s. Killen’s claims above may prove to be true but there seems to be little evidence other than anecdotally that this is the case. The first aid organisations are strong on supporting medical research into first aid effectiveness but there is little research into the workplace context of first aid training.

First aid is proven to increase the chance of survival from a serious or life-threatening injury but does it assist in preventing that injury? Sue Killen has a belief that first aid training does prevent injuries.  Research needs to be undertaken to verify or dismiss that belief.

 Kevin Jones

2 comments

  1. We need as an industry (safety) to define what is first aid and when it is needed. Many of my clients have emergency response teams that are well trained in first aid. I still insist that all crews have mandatory first 5 minute training. this is sadly missing on most sites and sorely needed. The two are very different. This issue needs to be further addressed based on sound science. I cant tell you how scary it is seeing a defibrillator in a refinery and the guy designated to use it has 1 days training.

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