Under the Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981, employers must make appropriate first aid arrangements within working environments. The legislation gives employers a duty of care to employees to provide first aid, which may, in certain circumstances, extend to members of the public.
In the current coronavirus crisis, employers will need to consider three key issues:
- How to arrange first aid cover if they have reduced staffing levels in workplaces
- The expiry of first aid certificates
- The potential exposure of first aid trained staff to COVID-19
COVID-19 Risk Assessments
Employers are required to review work related risk assessments as part of the government’s approach to safe working during the pandemic. When reviewing risk assessments, consideration should be given to refreshing first aid at work needs assessments. This includes discussions with first aiders so they are confident about providing the right assistance. And are made aware of what equipment to use to minimise risk of infection transmission in order to protect themselves and others.
First Aid Qualifications
During the first COVID-19 lockdown period, first aid training was put on hold. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) gave extensions to those with expired certification in First Aid At Work (FAW) and Emergency First Aid at Work (EFAW) certificates. However, those temporary arrangements have now ended.
FAW and EFAW certificates that expired on or after 16th March 2020 were valid until 31st October 2020 or six months from the date of expiry, if later. All requalification training had to be completed by 31st March 2021. The first aid training industry in England is confident that enough courses will be available for all necessary requalification training to continue taking place.
First Aid Treatment
In the current COVID-19 pandemic, HSE guidance advises first aiders to ‘try to assist at a safe distance from the casualty as much as you can and minimise the time you share a breathing zone,’ and if they are capable, to tell the injured or ill person to ‘do things for you.’ However, HSE guidance also states that ‘treating the casualty properly should be your first concern.’
The risk of COVID-19 cross-contamination occurring is where close contact is necessary to preserve life and prevent worsening of a condition – in particular where a first aid trained person is required to do cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
Regarding using personal protective equipment (PPE), HSE guidance states:
- Before starting CPR, to minimise transmission risk, use a cloth or towel to cover the patient’s mouth and nose, while still permitting breathing to restart following successful resuscitation.
- If available, use a fluid-repellent surgical mask, disposable gloves, eye protection, apron, or other suitable covering.
- Only deliver CPR by chest compressions and use a defibrillator, if available, – don’t do rescue breaths.
The above reflects guidance from the Resuscitation Council UK.
Employers should ensure that:
- Changes in the approach to any first aid treatment, such as maintaining social distancing where possible, are made known to all first aid trained employees
- First aiders are provided with appropriate PPE where necessary
- All first aid equipment provided (including defibrillators) are adequate, in working order, and that single items ‘use by’ dates are still valid.