First-Aid in the workplace – The legal requirements

First-aid in the workplace legal requirements can be found in the General Safety Regulations made under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Appointment of first-aiders

Firstly, the general duty placed on employers is that they should take all reasonable steps that are necessary to ensure that persons at work receive prompt first-aid treatment in the case of an injury or emergency.

If an organisation employs more than five employees, the employer must provide a first-aid box at or near the workplace which must be accessible and available for the treatment of injured persons at that workplace.

If an organisation employs more than ten employees, then at least one person for every fifty employees must be in possession of a valid certificate of competency in first-aid, or in the case of an office or shop as contemplated in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, one first-aider must be available for every one hundred employees.

First-aid on day and night shifts

The employer must take keep in mind that labour legislation prohibits discrimination against employees based upon the shift which they work – any privileges and services which are available to day shift workers must be available to night shift workers too. In other words, if there are first-aiders available on the day shift, as well as emergency response teams, persons with these skills should be available to the staff who work at night.

It is a common occurrence that there are response teams, nursing sisters and/or doctors on site during the day shift, but that they are merely on standby on night shifts. This will result in serious legal liability consequences for an employer should an employee be injured on night shift, and die as a result of the fact that he did not receive treatment timeously enough.

If a workplace uses high risk substances, corrosives or similar hazardous substances, the first aider must be trained in first-aid procedures that are necessary for the treatment of injuries that may result from exposure to these substances. He should also be aware of the emergency procedures which are necessary in the case of accidental leakage, spillage or dumping of these substances.

Contents of a First-Aid Box

The Annexure to the General Safety Regulations list the minimum content of a first aid box as follows (the quantities required have been omitted):

  • Wound cleaner/antiseptic
  • Swabs for cleaning wound
  • Cotton wool for padding
  • Sterile guaze
  • Forceps
  • Scissors
  • Safety pins
  • Triangular bandages
  • Roller bandages
  • Elastic adhesive
  • Non-allergic adhesive strip
  • Adhesive dressing strips
  • First aid dressing
  • Straight splints
  • Disposable latex gloves
  • CPR mouth pieces
  • Household gloves
  • Disinfectant
  • Plastic red bad
  • Paper towel

Is that all?

Although this is the list that the Act prescribes, there is a common misconception that an employer will be legally compliant if he has a kit which contains the items listed above. This is not so…

Regulation 3 dictates that an employer must make sure that his first aid boxes contain suitable first aid equipment which includes at least the equipment listed in the annexure. However, he must take into account the type of injuries that are likely to occur, the nature of the activities performed and the number of employees who work at the workplace.

The first-aid box contents must take into account the type of injuries that are likely to occur, the nature of the activities performed and the number of employees who work at the workplace.

It is evident that the contents which must be included will be dependent on the nature of the risks which will be encountered in the workplace. It will therefore be necessary to peruse the hazard identification and risk assessment of the organisation to determine what other items may be required in the box – for example, if fire is an identified risk, burn kits should be included in the first-aid boxes.

The principle is that for every significant risk which could be encountered in the workplace, there must be sufficient emergency equipment contained in the first-aid kit – only then will the employer be in possession of a legally compliant first-aid kit.

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