First Aid in the Workplace

First Aid in the Workplace, Emergency Action

Three minutes is not a lot of time, but it can be the difference between life and death.  When workers are seriously injured, those three minutes can determine if they will be permanently blind, or if they will ever return to their families.  Moments matter.  First aid in the workplace can prepare you and your employees for these moments.

Preventing tragedies, like the deaths of over 5,190 employees in 2021, is all about planning ahead.  We discussed Emergency Preparations and Planning in a previous article, which can be found here.  Part of that planning involves preparing for worst-case scenarios and being ready to aid employees who are injured on the job.  Having personnel trained and certified in first aid in the workplace can be the difference between a serious injury and fatality, so training personnel as part of your emergency preparations is essential. Doing so is also necessary for complying with OSHA’s requirements

OSHA’s standard for General Industry, 29 CFR 1910.151(b), provides:

In the absence of an infirmary, clinic, or hospital in near proximity to the workplace which is used for the treatment of all injured employees, a person or persons shall be adequately trained to render first aid. Adequate first aid supplies shall be readily available.

The Construction standard, 29 CFR 1926.50(c) provides:

In the absence of an infirmary clinic, hospital, or physician, that is reasonably accessible in terms of time and distance to the worksite, which is available for the treatment of injured employees, a person who has a valid certificate in first-aid training from the U.S. Bureau of Mines, the American Red Cross, or equivalent training that can be verified by documentary evidence, shall be available at the worksite to render first aid.

Personnel for First Aid in the Workplace

OSHA does not require that the trained first aid personnel are employees of the company.  Emergency treatment services through an ambulance service or a fire department are acceptable alternatives, if they are within reasonable proximity of the worksite, and can respond to an emergency quickly enough to be effective.  Unfortunately, these are general terms that do not provide clear guidance on what an acceptable response time is.  These terms were clarified in a standard interpretation letter issued by OSHA on January 16, 2007.

In the interpretation, OSHA states that “emergency medical services must be “reasonably accessible” or “in near proximity to the workplace” are stated only in general terms. An employer who contemplates relying on assistance from outside emergency responders as an alternative to providing a first-aid-trained employee must take several factors into account. The employer must take appropriate steps prior to any accident (such as making arrangements with the service provider) to ascertain that emergency medical assistance will be promptly available when an injury occurs. While the standards do not prescribe a number of minutes, OSHA has long interpreted the term “near proximity” to mean that emergency care must be available within no more than 3-4 minutes from the workplace, an interpretation that has been upheld by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission and by federal courts.”

As the interpretation states, emergency care must be available within 3-4 minutes.  This is due to medical research that shows that first aid provided within the first few minutes of serious injuries can avoid permanent medical impairment or death.  In office environments, or similar workplaces where the risk of serious incidents is low, response times of up to 15 minutes may be reasonable.  OSHA identifies serious incidents as those involving falls, suffocation, electrocution, and amputation.  If you have been relying on external emergency services, have you verified that they can respond in that small window of time?  If they cannot respond that quickly, then you either need to train some of your employees, or find other ways of ensuring that trained and certified first aid responders are available.

One important distinction to make is that the standard requires that someone is trained to render first aid, but they do not need to be a designated first aid responder.

Do be aware, though, that some standards require employees to be trained in first aid, even CPR.  29 CFR 1910.269(b) requires first aid and CPR-trained employees at work locations in the electric power industry.  29 CFR 1910.146(k)(2)(iii) and 1926.1211(b)(3) require at least one person on rescue teams for permit-required confined spaces be trained in first aid and CPR.

At the end of the day, we promise our employees that we are looking out for their well-being when they come to work for us.  That means that we are preventing injuries as much as possible, and are prepared to take care of them if they are injured.  Having proper first aid in the workplace and trained personnel available is one important step in keeping that promise.