Workplaces are under-prepared for first aid incidents

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.”

SafetyAtWorkBlog has followed the issue of first aid treatment for burns and the evidence for burn creams.

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.

Kevin Jones

*”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
doi: 10.5694/mja11.10836

3 thoughts on “Workplaces are under-prepared for first aid incidents”

  1. This is actually quite concerning to hear of this to be honest! Whats not good with reading this is the harm people could be in without knowing and that also business owners and businesses on the whole aren’t fully prepared for the problems that could well happen.

  2. Very good point Kevin.
    Every audit I have ever done scored top marks for having a suitable first aid kit. These days most are kept restocked and up to date by roving salesmen but……..seems to be a worrying trend lately that many work places are struggling to find peeople willing to be trained as a First Aider or that their refresher/retraining is way overdue. I often hear stuff like “there is a Chemist next door” or “we can just call 000” or “xxxxx next door has first aiders if we need one”

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