The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has reported that
“Less than 10% of people are aware they need to cool burn wounds for 20 minutes in cool water as a first aid measure.”
Research* published in the AMA’s Medical Journal of Australia, in October 2011, found that
“Unprompted, 82% of (7320) respondents said they knew to cool the burn with cool or cold water but 41.5% said they didn’t know for how long cold running water should be applied.”
The application of the recommended treatment for burns continues to be a contentious issue in practice in Australian workplaces. Part of the reason could be that first aid treatment in many workplaces is seen as little more than a “bandaid treatment” because this is the first aid treatment most seen and most received. But this perception does not site well with the evidence for burn treatments.
The first aid (band aid) treatments in most workplace is quick and usually does not interrupt work. To properly treat a burn, a worker must stop work for twenty minutes. Most workplaces where burns are likely to occur, for instance, construction sites, manufacturing, food preparation, are unlikely to welcome a stoppage of one worker for twenty minutes. Can one imagine a burger flipper at a fast food restaurant standing with a hand under a running tap for twenty minutes? It would be unlikely that this absence could be covered.
Burns treatment is a good example of the conflict that can occur in companies between the business imperative of productivity or customer service. The medical evidence states the best treatment for burns but it will cost twenty minutes of productivity. The state of knowledge says one action and this action conflicts with the business imperative. Returning early in the treatment to serve a customer is likely to breach one’s OHS obligations but is also likely to keep one’s job.
The research identified another, perhaps more worrying statistic:
“Less than 14% reported having undertaken a first aid course within the last 12 months”.
The statistic indicates that workplaces are under-prepared for workplace injuries, particularly if one considers that first aiders have life-saving skills. Even in workplaces that have predominantly minor injuries – the paper-cut office – the likelihood of a person having a heart attack or other incapacitating and possibly fatal injury is the same as outside the workplace.
OHS laws say that employers must provide safe and healthy work environments, in which a first aid response is considered an important element.
*”A population-based survey of knowledge of first aid for burns in New South Wales” – Lara A Harvey, Margo L Barr, Roslyn G Poulos, Caroline F Finch, Shauna Sherker and John G Harvey.
MJA 2011; 195 (8): 465-468