First Aid at Work

Do I need a first aid course for work? The aim of this article is to guide you through your response in the event of an emergency at work.  If any of this information is unknown.  It is likely that would benefit from First Aid training.

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Accident Investigation | Accident Reporting | Communication Skills | Risk Assessments & Method Statements | Safety, Health & Environment | First Aid at Work

First Aid at Work

Administering emergency first aid in the work place is the type of situation the we all hope never to encounter. However, if it does happen, it’s vital to be prepared.  So a basic knowledge of First Aid is an asset to employees in all sectors.  Every year lives are lost in workplace incidents. In many cases, a basic knowledge of First Aid can enable a lifesaving intervention. The best form of cure is prevention. If you spot hazards at work which could be potentially dangerous make sure to report it to your supervisor or the designated Health and Safety Officer.

NOTE: Many workplaces are required by law to have an Occupational First Aider onsite. If there is a designated First Aid provider available, then you should contact them immediately in the case of an emergency.  If you do not have access to an Occupational First Aid provider or medical professional then you might be able to utilise some basic First Aid awareness to make a critical difference.

Basics of First Aid at Work 

In an emergency situation you need to remain calm and call the emergency services.  Then if safe provide the most basic first aid procedures such as keeping a patient warm and comfortable while you wait for proper medical assistance.

Primary Survey

The first step in treating a medical emergency in the workplace is to conduct a primary survey. A primary survey involves observing for dangers to you and the victim, checking the level of consciousness, examining airways for obstruction, checking respiratory response and circulation.  The first element of a primary survey is checking level of danger involved in the situation.  When undertaking First Aid, it is important to keep in mind both your own personal safety and that of the patient. It is important to move swiftly but with extreme caution. Ensure that you do not place yourself into a situation where you may become part of the emergency.

Take particular care not to come into contact with electrical current. In the case of suffocation as the result of fumes or smoke, you must ensure not to place yourself in danger by remaining in the space where the patient encountered the toxic element. Care is also vital when it comes to moving the victim where a back or neck injury may be present.  Always make it clear to the victim and bystanders what you are attempting to undertake. By making loud and clear statements to the victim you can reassure them and indicate to bystanders that you are trying to deliver First Aid.

Primary Survey Once the danger has been carefully assessed, you should then proceed to check the consciousness level of the victim. If a victim is unconscious then continue on to the next phase of the primary survey – checking the airways. If victim is facedown, gently roll victim onto their back.  If back or neck injury is suspected enlist aid of others to keep victim’s head, neck, and back aligned as you roll victim over.

Once the victim has been rolled over, then proceed to open the victim’s airway using head-tilt. Kneel by victim’s side, place one of your hands on victim’s forehead, and gently tilt victim’s head back. Place fingers of your other hand on bony part of victim’s chin – not on throat. Gently lift chin straight up without closing mouth.

If the airway is clear then try to gauge the ease of breathing. Look, listen, and feel for breathing for 5-10 seconds by placing your cheek near victim’s mouth and watching for chest to rise and fall.   Finally, check for signs of circulation, such as movement, groaning, or coughing. If victim is not breathing and has no signs of circulation, commence CPR.  Checking the Airways, Breathing and Circulation of a victim are often referred to as the ABCs of Emergency First Aid

Secondary Survey 

The aim of the secondary survey is to establish what other, non-life threatening injuries may have occurred. It may help you to deliver further aid and provide a valuable insight for the paramedics when they arrive. Begin the secondary survey by checking in the ears for signs of fluid or blood which could be indicators of a head injury. If you believe that the victim may have a facial injury check around the face very carefully. Open the mouth and observe their teeth.

If the teeth are not aligned this could indicate a blow to the head, a fractured jaw or broken jaw.  Gently feel around the arms, ribs and collar bone by moving along them checking for lumps. Cut away clothing around any areas of concern to expose them.  Check the stomach and the pelvis. Is the stomach rigid or soft? Run your hand down over the spine and legs. Once again, make sure to note all of the abnormalities that you come across during the secondary survey and inform the emergency services of these. Respiratory Emergencies.   The more common types of respiratory emergencies include breathing difficulties, choking, suffocation and asthma attacks.  Breathing difficulties can range from being short of breath to gasping for air. A person with breathing difficulty may have blush lips or fingers, chest pain, light-headedness, wheezing, or unusual patterns of chest movement.  In the case of breathing difficulties, check the persons airways, breathing and circulation.

If necessary, begin CPR.  Choking is where an object becomes lodged in the throat restricting the flow of air. A partial obstruction is where the victim may be able to cough, breathe or talk but has object stuck in their throat.  In this instance, you should talk to the victim and advise them to keep coughing.  In the case of a severe obstruction, the object that is in the throat is completely blocking the airway. This can lead to a loss of consciousness. Deliver five strong slaps to the centre of the back. If this is unsuccessful, administer the Abdominal Thrusts.

Suffocation can have a number of different causes. It can be suffocation from smoke drowning, gas or fumes. Symptoms of suffocation would be blue discoloration of face and mouth, gasping, inability to speak and unconsciousness. In the case of suffocation from fumes or smoke, try to move the victim from the area to a place with fresh air.  A key indicator of an asthma attack will be wheezing.  There can also be a number of other indicators including uncontrollable coughing, tightness in the chest or tightened neck and chest muscles. It is vital to get the sufferer to use their inhaler. Contact the emergency services if the inhaler is not working as an effective treatment, or if the sufferer is unable to use their own inhaler themselves.

Cardiac Emergencies

Angina and heart attacks are the two leading causes of cardiac emergencies.  Angina is a condition caused by a build-up of cholesterol on the arteries.  During a period of exercise or excitement the heart requires more oxygen and the narrowed artery cannot provide the blood supply. The Angina may present suddenly and often during a period of exertion, stress or extreme weather.  The victim will experience a sensation similar to a squashing pain in the chest. The victim may also have radiating pain in either arm (more commonly the left). This attack will last between three to eight minutes.

The victim will require rest and medical treatment in the aftermath of this attack.  A heart attack also stems from a build-up of cholesterol plaque within a coronary artery. The plaque in this instance cracks and this leads to the formation of a blood clot which blocks the artery. Unlike angina, the death of the heart muscles from heart attack is permanent and will not be relieved by rest.  Heart attacks usually last for thirty minutes or more. If you suspect that someone is having a heart attack get them to sit down and rest. In the event of a suspected heart attack the emergency services must be consulted immediately.

External Bleeding:

There are three different types of bleeding which a person can experience. These are capillary bleeding, venous bleeding and arterial bleeding.

Capillary Bleeding: 

Capillaries are the smallest blood vessels in your body; they are about as thin as the hairs on your head. When a minor scrape or cut opens some capillaries, the bleeding is almost always very slow and small in quantity. Your body’s natural clotting mechanism is able to stop most cases of capillary bleeding within seconds to minutes.

Venous Bleeding:

Deep cuts have the potential to cut open veins. A cut vein typically results in a steady but relatively slow flow of dark red blood. The best way to stop most cases of venous bleeding is to put direct pressure on the wound.

Arterial Bleeding:

This is the least common and most dangerous type of bleeding. It involves bright red blood that comes out in large volume, and in spurts that correspond with each beat of your heart.  In most cases of arterial bleeding, direct and extremely firm pressure on the wound is the best way of stopping it. If direct pressure is not applied, a severe arterial wound can cause you to bleed to death within a few minutes.

Primary and Secondary Surveys In Summary

We explored First Aid in the workplace. If at all possible, workplace hazards should be noted and fixed before emergencies occur.  Respond quickly but cautiously if an emergency does occur, ensuring your own personal safety at all times. Commence a primary survey by checking the danger of the situation.

Then proceed to examine the airways, breathing and circulation (ABC) of the victim.  If CPR is not required, proceed to a secondary survey of non-life threatening injuries.  Respiratory emergencies include breathing difficulties, choking, suffocation and asthma attacks. It is important to know the indicators and treatments for each emergency. The same is the case in cardiac emergencies such as heart attacks and cases of bleeding.

Fractures, Sprains and Strains

Theses are some of the more common injuries that occur in the workplace.  In both a sprain and a strain, something has been either stretched or partially or completely torn. In the case of a sprain, you’ve stretched or torn a ligament.  Ligaments are fibrous tissues that connect your bones to your joints.

Sprains often occur in ankles or wrists.  If you’ve got a strain, you’ve stretched or torn a muscle or a tendon. Tendons are tissues that connect your muscles to your bone. The hamstrings and the lower back are common strain sites.  Pain and swelling are common signs of both sprains and strains. However, a sprain can bring bruising with it.

Unlike a sprain or strain, a fracture is a broken or cracked bone. Although you’ll be in pain with all three, the symptoms of a fracture are unique and can vary greatly depending on which bone is broken (say a rib as compared to your foot). Generally, however, breaks bring a few tell-tale signs. These include the bone sticking through the skin, inability to move the injured part and a misshapen look to the affected area.

Burns Scalds Poisons Electrical Injuries.

Burns and scalds are both damage caused to the skin caused by heat. A burn is caused by dry heat. Scalds, on the other hand, are caused by something wet, such as boiling water. Both can be very painful and cause blisters and charred, black or red, skin.  To treat a burn or scald you must cool the damaged skin with cool or lukewarm water for 10 to 30 minutes. Then cover the burn with Clingfilm and call the emergency services quickly.


Poisoning is caused by swallowing, injecting, breathing in, or otherwise being exposed to a harmful substance. Most poisonings occur by accident. Common signs to look for include burns or redness around the mouth, breath that smells like chemicals, empty medication bottles, or vomiting and confusion.  In the event of a poisoning call the emergency services immediately and follow their directions carefully.

Electrical injuries 

In the event of an electrical injury, do not touch the casualty until you are sure that they are not still in contact with the current. Turn off the electricity at fuse box or unplug the appliance. Do not use anything metallic to break the circuit. Use something made of wood to move the victims limbs away from the electrical source. Then proceed to conduct a primary and secondary survey checking, in particular, for electrical burns.

Diabetes and Epilepsy 

Both Diabetes and Epilepsy can result in seizures.  If the victim is known to suffer from epilepsy then calling the emergency services may not be necessary for a short seizure. However, if the person is known to have Diabetes then it is essential to call an ambulance straight away.  Seizures can vary from absence seizures, similar to day-dreaming or sleep walking, to seizures which are indicated by unconsciousness, convulsions and muscle rigidity.

If a seizure occurs it is important to time the seizure from beginning of convulsions to end and call the emergency services.  Clear hard or sharp objects from the vicinity of the victim to prevent injury. Loosen tight clothing around the neck. Pad under the head with a pillow or rolled-up jacket. If possible move the victim into the recovery position. If the seizure last longer than 5 minutes, call the emergency services.


There are many levels of unconsciousness. Some are more serious than others.  Levels include unconscious episodes that are short for example are fainting or blacking out.  Longer – The victim is incoherent when roused   Prolonged – A person in a coma, for example, can be motionless and not at all aware of his or her surroundings for a very long time Unconsciousness can be caused by a variety of factors including head injury, suffocation, fainting, concussion, poisoning, and seizures among other things.

When you encounter an unconscious person, perform a primary survey to ensure that their airways are clear. Then check for indications of head trauma or other injuries. It is important to try and gather as much information as possible from those at the scene for clues as to how the person was rendered unconscious.

Calling the emergency services

Remain calm Tell the operator what assistance you need. Be prepared to provide your location, the number of the phone you are calling from, the nature of your problem and other information they may need to help you.   Stay calm and follow their advice. It is usually a good idea to stay on the phone until help arrives.

Conclusion Let’s review what we have just learned. We looked at fractures, sprains and strains. We also looked at other common hazards like burns, poisoning and electrical injuries. Diabetes and Epilepsy can both result in seizures but the emergency service must be called if a Diabetic has a seizure whereas someone with Epilepsy may not require emergency medical intervention. We explored the different types of unconsciousness and the factors that can cause them. Once again, Il’d like to remind you that this article is a guide.  These lessons are available as an online First Aid training course.

Designated First Aiders should take a longer course with a certified First Aid instructor.

Stay Safe & Healthy!

For further information (external links):

These lessons are also available as an online eLearning course.

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