Many people are surprised to find out that there is actually an OSHA requirement for meeting first aid needs at job sites and in the workplace. Smaller businesses seem to be the least aware of this requirement. But consider the facts and maybe the employers’ responsibility doesn’t seem so extraordinary. According to OSHA, 4,609 workers were killed on the job in 2011, and there were 2,986,500 total recordable cases; 908,300 cases resulted in days away from work. The average time spent away from the job—8 days. That is substantial. Here’s a little more data: Cases involving sprains, strains, tears: 340,870; cases involving injuries to the back: 182,270; and cases involving falls, slips, trips: 225,550. That’s just in one year! Accidents can happen anywhere, but most people need to work and spend the majority of their time on the job. So is the picture a little clearer? Of course meeting first aid requirements should be mandated. But what does that mean?
OSHA maintains that that emergency care must be available within no more than 3-4 minutes from the workplace. Unfortunately, emergency medical services in many metropolitan areas have an average of 8 minute response time, and rural ambulance response times, which often operate on a volunteer basis, can be significantly longer. This clearly puts the responsibility for first response on the employer. This means—training designated employees, having the proper first aid, and having a plan.
And it should be pointed out, given the above statistics for lost days, that regardless of whether or not OHSA requires first aid training for the employees at your business, providing on site first aid could significantly reduce the amount of lost work time and cost that can result from on site injuries. So it also makes good business sense. So where do you begin?
Evaluate Your Work Site to Understand the Hazards
When planning a first aid program for your workplace, make it site-specific. Not all work environments have the same hazards, and you can find injury statistics for several industries on The Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics website. They have a specific section called Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities under the Subject Area tab. The BLS has the latest data available, and finding your industry on this report will help you tailor your first aid program to your site specific risks.
Get your Employees Involved and Make it a Team Effort
Form a Safety or First Aid Team. Not only will it alleviate the problem of ambulance wait times, it also helps employees feel empowered to help in an emergency. Of course proper training is necessary. It should include CPR, First Aid and AED certification, which needs to be refreshed on a regular basis. Bloodborne pathogens training should also be given for first responders. By maintaining regular training in your workspace, you insure that new employees are up to date on procedure and are able to deal with workplace accidents. Regular training will also keep employee certifications from lapsing.
Keep First Aid Supplies Fully Stocked and Operational
While OHSA states that employers must have "adequate first aid supplies...readily available," it does not specify exactly what supplies should be kept on hand. One reason for this is that first aid supplies are just as industry specific as the accidents that can happen on your work site. The American National Standards Institute outlines the minimum requirements for a workplace first aid kit including an absorbent compress, adhesive bandages, adhesive tape, antiseptic, burn treatment applications, gloves and sterile pads. Depending on your industry you may want to include a chemical cold pack, eyewash, a CPR barrier device, compresses of varying size, eye patches, roller bandages and an AED. If you are a small business, one kit should be sufficient, but in a larger operation, keep several fully stocked first aid kits in easily visible and accessible locations. And don’t forget about new employee training—orientation should, of course, include an introduction to the location and contents of these kits.
Put It in Writing
Even if your business refreshes employee training every year, people forget protocol under pressure. In order to provide the best immediate assistance in any emergency situation, keep the workplace first aid system in writing. Make it readily available to every employee, and keep extra copies in your first aid kits. Keep language barriers in mind. If more than one language is spoken in your office or on your work site, make sure you have first aid instructions printed in multiple languages. Include your local emergency numbers on the sheet. Even the best prepared employees will need professional help, and many situations do not allow the time to look up emergency numbers. Printed instruction are also need to be updated, at minimum, annually.
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