First aid for businesses
A workplace first aid programme is an essential part of even the most basic safety and health management plan, and its value should never be underestimated. BLAIR BURMEISTER looks at the nitty-gritty of a complete first aid programme.
Accidents happen, and every workplace needs to have at least one person who will be able to deliver first aid if necessary. A short safety course could mean the difference between life and death.
Various occupational health and safety (OHS) organisations provide tailor-made courses to ensure that the work environment is able to cope with emergency situations, which can arise at any time.
Danny Fletcher, managing member of Eshetti Safety Services, recommends that an employer go through a comprehensive risk assessment before deciding upon the first aid course. “This can lead to discoveries of potential risks in the workplace that may have been previously overlooked,” he says. “It is also important for employers to realise that these risks need to be reassessed every three months.”
The OHS Act of 1993 (General Safety Regulations) states that an employer has to take all steps necessary to ensure that employees receive prompt first-aid treatment in the event of an emergency. Wherever there are five or more employees in a workplace, a first aid box must be present, accessible and visible and must contain all the listed and compliant supplies.
When there are more than 10 employees, employers must take steps to ensure that for every group of up to 50 employees, at least one person is trained and is in possession of a compliant first aid certificate. This person has to be present during normal working hours. A level one course is suitable for this requirement; this is a standard training course that is compliant with OHS standards. Even though it isn’t a requirement for every employee to be formally trained in first aid, all employees should know about the workplace safety procedures.
A level two, intermediate course is more for the health and safety enthusiasts who are interested in learning more about the management of unexpected injuries and environmental emergencies. Even though this course may not be an OHS requirement, it is beneficial to have someone with a little more training than that of a basic level one course. It’s sensible to enable a higher level of training than required as this leads to more confidence in the first-aider.
“The first aid procedure should be included in the company’s safety induction programme so that all staff have an awareness of the matter,” says Fletcher. “It is clearly indicated in the OHS Act that all incidents need to be reported before the employee leaves the workplace, and this has to be discussed with everyone.”
Where pesticides or hazardous chemical and biological substances are handled or processed, a level three course is required. This is a comprehensive course, usually suited for working environments that don’t have access to medical care, and will probably have to be tailored to suit the needs of the specific workplace. Management in these types of working environments must be acquainted with the contents of the relevant material data safety sheets, which provide insight into the correct first aid and safety procedures for the substance in question.
Fletcher’s recommendations are that all first aid boxes be inspected monthly. The first aider needs to complete a register (kept in the first aid box) whenever anything is used. This will indicate what items need to be replaced at the end of the month, or sooner if necessary, and will highlight incidents the employer may need to pay more attention to.
“A comprehensive first aid programme is one that is taken seriously in the workplace, where management realises the great importance and assists in the stringent implementation of the plan,” says Fletcher.
The Action Training Academy (ATA) provides a wide range of safety courses, including first aid training. Alastair Farish, an advanced life support paramedic with more than 18 years’ experience, says ATA recognised a gap in the market when OHS was made a legislated requirement by the Department of Labour.
He points out that ATA is the only training centre in South Africa to be accredited by the British Safety Council (BSC). Its courses have been developed to meet the health and safety needs of line managers, supervisors, team leaders, heads of department and junior managers. The training gives participants a theoretical and practical understanding of health and safety and how it can be applied successfully within the workplace.
“This means that, in addition to our SETA [Sector Education and Training Authority] accredited Safety Officer certificate, all competent candidates will receive an internationally recognised Level 2 BSC Certificate in Supervising Staff Safely,” says Farish. “This is a giant leap for our health and safety programmes and we are excited about the future and what the relationship with the BSC holds.”
He adds that OHS is pivotal to the long-term sustainability of any business. “Today’s employers have a responsibility to protect people within the workplace. The OHS training we offer provides employees in all sectors of the economy with the knowledge and skills to identify, handle and manage potentially hazardous situations.”
Director of ATA’s coastal branches, Andre Lotz, notes that there is a critical shortage of trained and experienced health and safety professionals in South Africa. “Safety legislation is becoming increasingly important, which has led to an increased demand,” he says. “Emergency first aid is an invaluable skill for both the workplace and the domestic environment. People who attend these courses are not only provided with information on the practical handling of a medical emergency, but also on the first aid kit that should be kept close at hand.”
Farish points out that OHS is a core and integral element in driving businesses forward and stresses the importance of organisations being compliant with the OHS Act 85 of 1993. He admits that businesses can be put off by what seems to be a daunting task.
“Compliance may seem an uphill struggle, considering the level of legislated requirements,” says Farish. “Many businesses don’t realise that they may already be compliant with a number of OHS requirements. Our objective is to assist organisations in planning OHS system implementation and procedures that will make it as easy as possible to achieve and maintain compliance.”
The amount of time it takes for an ambulance or emergency service to arrive on the scene is unpredictable and uncontrollable. Having knowledge of basic safety procedures in life-threatening emergency situations could change a situation for the better, possibly even saving a life.