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OHSA – First Aid Boxes in the Workplace

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Please note that this pertains to South African Occupational Health & Safety regulations and best practice requirements.

There seems to be quite a few questions on when a First Aid Box is required in the workplace and what is even more confusing is what exactly is supposed to be in the box. So I did a little research and this is what I found.

Please take note that these are the basic requirements and logic must prevail. If you are not sure – go to the OHSA (Occupational Health & Safety Act) or contact the Department of Labour.

When is a First Aid Box Required
The Act states that “First Aid Facilities must be provided where more than 5 (five) employees are employed at a workplace.”

Now let’s be sensible about this, if you are working in an office where the extent of your machinery is limited to a stapler and a punch, the above refers specifically to you. If you work in a workshop where you are surrounded by machines, all of which could do you grievous bodily harm, logic must surely tell you that irrespective of whether you have 1 (one) employee or 100 (one hundred), you need a First Aid Box.

The Act further states “The employer must provide a First Aid Box or Boxes at or near the workplace, available and accessible for the treatment of injured persons at the workplace.”

So, that means, you guys who have teams of workers out in the field or on site somewhere – the site boss or supervisor or whoever is in charge should have a First Aid Box in the car/vehicle or if there is a lock up facility on site, it could be kept there.

Then the Act says “An employer shall take all reasonable steps that are necessary under the circumstances, to ensure that persons at work receive steps that are necessary in case of injury or emergency.”

The emphasis is on “Reasonable steps” – and this includes but is not limited to the training of employees in first aid skills by a recognised training institution. This training might very well be specific to the job or business that you are in. For example training the staff at a nursery school would be similar but very different to training staff at a workshop. The nursery school would need to include training on treatment for children and infants as well as training on treatment for adults.

The bottom line is though, that your staff are entitled to receive first aid treatment promptly and without unnecessary delay.

What should be in the First Aid Box

The quantities of items that should be in the First Aid Box, would depend upon the number of staff and also the activities performed at the workplace. I would suggest that in order to ascertain your exact requirements, you need to go to the OHSA and do some more research.

The basic requirements are (but not limited to):

1. Wound cleaner
2. Swabs (for cleaning wounds)
3. Cotton Wool (for padding)
4. Sterile gauze
5. A pair of forceps (tweezers for splinters)
6. A pair of scissors
7. A set of safety pins
8. Triangular bandages
9. Roller bandages (small)
10. Roller bandages (large)
11. A roll of elastic adhesive
12. A roll (box) non allergenic adhesive
13. Packets of adhesive dressing strips (it’s a good idea to get a quantity of assorted sizes)
14. First aid dressing (small)
15. First aid dressing (large)
16. Two straight splints
17. Large & medium disposable latex gloves (it’s a good idea to have more than two of each)
18. CPR mouth pieces or similar devices (again it’s a good idea to have more than two available.)

Here’s the thing though – don’t be putting headache tablets and cough mixtures and the like into your box – that’s considered illegal and if you are caught with anything other than what is listed above, you could be in for a hefty fine. Think about the consequences of giving a tablet to someone who turns out to be allergic and that someone has a stroke or dies as a direct result of something you have given them – how are you going to feel about that, never mind the legal implications!

The articles from your box, that have been used must be replaced as soon as possible and as the employer it is your responsibility to ensure that your box(es) always carry the minimum requirements and that items that have gone past their expiry or ‘use by’ date are discarded or destroyed and replaced as soon as possible.

It is also a good idea to have a register of sorts to record every time an incident resulted in the use of the First Aid Box. This would also be good in case of insurance or legal claims and the like.

The name(s) of the staff who have been trained to provide treatment should also be kept in or near the First Aid Box for ease of reference.

Remember though, if you are in any doubt with regards to the requirements – contact the Department of Labour or if you are in any doubt regarding the correct treatment to use – call for professional help!

Prevention is always better than cure though – so be safe at all times.