Under the Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981, workplaces are required to provide the right equipment, resources and people that ensure employees receive attention if they’re taken unwell at work. In most workplaces, this comes in the form of trained first aiders, a first aid box and health and safety risk assessment to determine which procedures are needed. COVID-19 brings with it a number of new considerations to first aid policies and processes for workplaces. Social distancing, limited physical contact and optimal hygiene make providing aid to employees quite the challenge. So what will first aid in the workplace look like with all these restrictions in place?
Conduct a thorough risk assessment
It’s essential to conduct a thorough risk assessment within your work environment. The risk assessment must cover the layout of your workplace, the size of the company and how many workers will be on site during the day. You should include the equipment and type of work carried out by each employee, and the risks involved in each of their activities.
Social distancing must be in place at all times to make sure workers don’t come in contact with one another. The government has now specified a minimum of one metre distance where two metres isn’t possible. You’ll have to alter your working practices and procedures to cater to this requirement. Depending on the activities and distance between each worker and the equipment they’re handling, personal protective equipment (PPE) must be provided if the other practices aren’t adequate.
Hesitation from your first aiders
It’s only natural that some of your first aiders may refuse to give first aid in the normal way because they’re at risk of contracting the virus. If a person is unwell and needs a form of attention that requires the first aiders to break social distancing guidelines, it may result in that person being unsupported. There should be no pressure on your first aid workers to carry out first aid if they don’t want to. They have to protect their personal health and safety, especially if themselves or a member of their household is a vulnerable person.
Abide by social distancing guidelines
Your risk assessment should outline the scenarios in which social distancing is and isn’t possible in the workplace. A minimum of one metre should be maintained even when carrying out first aid to avoid risk of contracting or spreading the virus. If someone you’re helping is symptomatic and could have the virus, you should put the person in a room away from the rest of your workforce to minimise risk. If you don’t have a separate room to put the individual in, you should instruct the rest of your workforce to move away from the area and maintain two metres between each other.
Providing personal protective equipment (PPE)
Where social distancing isn’t possible, personal protective equipment (PPE) must be provided and worn by those giving assistance. The government recommends that first aiders wear disposable gloves and a disposable plastic apron. It’s suggested that you use face masks and eye protection if there are any risks associated with fluids.
Hygiene is crucial when handling your PPE. Those providing first aid must clean their hands sufficiently with soap and warm water or hand sanitiser with a high percentage of alcohol to kill germs. This has to be done both before putting on your PPE and after removing it. This makes sure you’re not at risk of self-contamination from any germs that are on your equipment. You should then dispose of your disposable PPE or thoroughly clean your reusable PPE.
CPR does place the victim and assistants at risk of some cross-contamination, especially where mouth to mouth has to be given. The Resuscitation Council UK says this risk is very small but you should always call for help and dial 999 in an emergency.
The government and Resuscitation Council UK suggests that you shouldn’t give mouth to mouth or rescue breaths as there is a possibility the victim may have COVID-19. You should give chest compressions only until help arrives. Don’t check if the victim is breathing by placing your face near their face; you should start performing chest compressions regardless of whether you know they’re in cardiac arrest or not. When calling the ambulance immediately, disclose whether the victim is symptomatic of COVID-19.
If you have a defibrillator on site, use this early on as it doesn’t risk infection and increases the individual’s chance of life. The first aiders should wear PPE if they have it and must wash hands thoroughly with plenty of soap and water or alcohol sanitiser after dealing with the victim.
Cleaning yourself and the treatment area
To maintain a high standard of hygiene, the assistance providers must thoroughly clean themselves and the area in which the victim was treated. After contact with another person, you should clean your hands as soon as possible. You don’t need to have been in non-distanced contact to require hand washing, it must be done regardless of your proximity with another person.
You should clean and disinfect the assistance area including surfaces and equipment. You can use regular household cleaning supplies to do this, it doesn’t have to be professional or medical grade as long as it’s done thoroughly and regularly. Corridors and other areas that a contaminated person may have been will also need to be cleaned in the same manner.
Providing first aid in the workplace amid the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t as daunting as it sounds. There are some procedural and practical changes that need to be made to make sure the environment is hygienic and your employees are safe. You should conduct a detailed risk assessment with considerations of social distancing, hygiene and PPE guidelines. You should always maintain above a one metre distance at all times, and where it’s deemed necessary, implement protective barriers and personal protective equipment. Checking whether your first aiders are comfortable with continuing to be first aiders is vital so you can let them know the new changes or find other volunteers. First aid equipment must be readily available on site as well as cleaning products and bins for disposing of PPE.