Providing First Aid at Work


First aid in the workplace is a legal requirement, to the extent that arrangements must be made for people taken ill or injured at work, regardless of whether the work itself is the cause of the injury or illness.

However, the implementation of first aid is largely left to employers, which means that health and safety practitioners can make a vital contribution.

Adequate and appropriate

The Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981 state that adequate and appropriate equipment, facilities and personnel must be provided so that employees can receive immediate attention in case of injury or illness.

What is “adequate and appropriate” depends on the size of the organisation and the kind of hazards that are present. The minimum legal requirements, which would be suitable for a small workplace with low‑level hazards, are:

  • A suitably‑stocked first aid kit
  • Information for employees about first aid arrangements
  • An appointed person in charge of first aid arrangements.

Beyond these stipulations, employers must decide what first aid arrangements are needed for their employees.


The first aid kit

What should actually be in a first aid kit is not specified but, whilst there are no mandatory items for inclusion, a needs assessment will inform precisely what goes into the kit. Even a workplace with few hazards identified should have a first aid kit with a selection of plasters, bandages and other dressings.

Information for employees

How first aid information should be provided is also not stipulated by law. Employers may wish to display first aid notices to inform people where first aid equipment is located, the names and contact details of appointed persons or first aiders, and any other relevant information (e.g. the location of the first aid room, if there is one).

The appointed person

This is the person in charge of first aid arrangements. They look after any first aid equipment and facilities and are responsible for making calls to the emergency services when needed.

An appointed person does not need to be first aid‑trained, but they must provide first aid cover in cases where a first aider is absent from work (in an organisation that requires a qualified first aider).

What is a first aider, and when is one required?

A first aider is someone who has been trained in first aid to a level appropriate to the needs assessment that an employer has carried out.

The training that they have received can be in emergency first aid at work (EFAW), first aid at work (FAW, which has greater course content), or another type of first aid training, which may be more specialised.

There is no rule about which organisations need first aiders rather than appointed persons, but the Health and Safety Executive recommends that low‑hazard workplaces (e.g. offices) with between 25 and 50 employees have at least one EFAW-trained first aider and, for larger organisations, one FAW-trained first aider for every 100 employees.

For higher-hazard workplaces (e.g. construction sites; factories and warehouses; workplaces in which dangerous machinery is used), the HSE recommends that, where there are five or more employees, there is at least one EFAW- or FAW-trained first aider. Thereafter, there should be at least one FAW-trained first aider per 50 employees.

EFAW or FAW? The needs assessment

The needs assessment is a consideration of several points and their impact upon the first aid provision. The results will determine what level of first aid provision is necessary.

The points to be considered are:

Hazards. Are these low-level (general office hazards) or high-level (involving chemicals or machinery)? 

Employees. How many? Of these, do any have disabilities or health problems? Are there any inexperienced workers present (e.g. apprentices)?

Accident records. What kinds of injury or illness have people suffered in the workplace?

Working arrangements. Consider the working patterns of employees (e.g. shifts; lone working; extensive travel), the layout of the premises (how many buildings on site; how many storeys per building) and whether other employers share the site (if so, it is advisable to have an agreement). Also, what cover is required for the planned and unforeseen absence of appointed persons or first aiders? 

Members of the public. There is no requirement to provide first aid for non-employees, but such provision is recommended by the HSE.

Training and qualification

Training in first aid is delivered by several providers, including well‑known organisations such as St John Ambulance and British Red Cross.

Any provider chosen to train staff should be able to demonstrate their competence and qualifications. The Health and Safety Executive used to approve first aid providers but, since October 2013, it has had no power to do so. This has given employers greater choice in making their first aid arrangements, but they must undertake due diligence to ensure they select a competent training provider.

Qualifications in first aid last for three years and then require renewal, for which a requalification course must be attended. A half-day annual refresher course is desirable, but not mandatory.

The benefits of having the appropriate first aid provision in place

It is perhaps self‑evident that first aid is beneficial. In cases of serious injury, it can mean the difference between life and death, but it can also stop minor injuries becoming worse. Someone who has received first aid could return to work sooner than they might have, had they not received first aid.

Employees who know that first aid is readily available will feel safe in their working environment, which is good for morale. This is also beneficial to the employer, because healthy and happy employees will be more productive.

The role of the health and safety practitioner

The health and safety practitioner plays a pivotal role in an employer’s provision of first aid.

In a small, low‑hazard workplace, you are ideally placed to act as the appointed person. It may fall to you to conduct needs assessments, too.

Perhaps you already hold a first aid qualification and have experience of administering first aid to your colleagues. In a larger, higher-hazard workplace, such expertise will be particularly valuable. You may be the point of contact for all first aiders and be responsible for arranging their training and annual refreshers.

In any workplace, your role may involve delivering induction training (during which new staff will be made aware of the first aid arrangements) and other first aid‑related, in-house training.

Since the exact nature of first aid provision at work is determined by the characteristics of a particular workplace, your scope is broad, and you have the opportunity to take responsibility for an area of vital importance.