COVID-19 Legal Requirements on Employers for First Aid

first aid

Written by Susan Dearden who is a Health and Safety Lawyer, and Dr Steve Cowley who is an occupational hygienist and health and safety expert. Both are with Finch Consulting Limited which has a range of experts able to support your business with engineering and health and safety issues and advice.

The Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981 requires (in summary) all employers to provide or ensure that there is provided:

  • Such equipment and facilities as are adequate and appropriate in the circumstances for enabling first aid to be rendered to their employees if they are injured or become ill at work (Reg 3(1))
  • Such number of suitable persons as is adequate and appropriate in the circumstances for rendering first-aid to his employees if they are injured or become ill at work. For this purpose, a person shall not be suitable unless she has undergone such training and has appropriate qualifications (Reg 3(2)).  If first aiders are absent “in temporary and exceptional circumstances” someone else can be appointed to take charge of anyone needing help from a medical practitioner or nurse and of the first aid equipment
  • Information to employees of the arrangements made (Reg 4)

During the pandemic, there are a couple of obvious areas that need to be considered.

  1. Homeworkers

Clearly what is adequate and appropriate is going to be different when staff are working from home.  Don’t forget though that you have an obligation to ensure that each homeworker completes a risk assessment.  Part of your risk management controls might include:

  • Providing a contact number for first aiders from whom advice can still be sought
  • Checking each homeworker has a basic first aid kit (identifying what equipment needs to be in that kit)
  • If they live alone
    • Imposing a requirement that they always have their mobile charged and with them and so can call for help if needed
    • Requiring a call when they start, and finish work so that you can be assured that they are safe and well.
  1. Working at Your Premises

The Government is keen to ensure that where homeworking is not possible, people should continue to go to work provided that suitable additional measures are put in place to ensure compliance with its guidelines on hygiene and social distancing.

In contemplating what measures need to be put in place, you need to bear in mind that a designated first aider might refuse to provide first aid in the usual way, because of the risk of contracting COVID-10. In particular think about what will happen if cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is needed.

You have duties of care not just to the injured, but also to the first aiders.

It is likely that as a minimum you will need to make additional PPE available to responding first aiders, some additional instruction on managing the potential risks to themselves, and (particularly if you cannot obtain appropriate PPE) that you consider allowing only low risk work to minimise the risk of CPR being required.

The Resuscitation Council’s current advice suggests that when there is a perceived risk of infection, put a cloth/towel over the victim’s mouth and nose and attempt compression only.  But be wary – advice on the virus and the risks it presents changes frequently.  The Council suggests that “if the rescuer has access to PPE (e.g. FFP3 face mask, disposable gloves, eye protection), these should be worn”.  There is also advice on handwashing after treatment

Current NHS guidance on CPR is slightly different.

The NHS suggests that if required to perform CPR you should complete a dynamic risk assessment “and adopt appropriate precautions for infection control.  Where possible, it is recommended that you do not perform rescue breaths or mouth to mouth ventilation; perform chest compressions only.  Resuscitation Council (UK) Guidelines 2010 for Basic Life Support state that studies have shown that compression only CPR may be as effective as combined ventilation and compression in the first few minutes after non-asphyxial arrest (cardiac arrest due to lack of oxygen).  If a decision is made to perform mouth to mouth …use a resuscitation face shield where available.   Should you have to give mouth to mouth ventilation there are no additional actions to be taken other than to monitor yourself for symptoms of possible COVID 19 over the following 14 days….”

The NHS site also recommends the following PPE to assist anyone symptomatic and suspected of having COVID-19

“ Disposable gloves and fluid repellent surgical face mask …and, if available, disposable plastic apron and disposable eye protection (such as face visor or goggles) should be worn. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before putting on and after taking off PPE.”

There is no one solution which fits all and the situation is fluid, but you do need to give First Aid arrangements across your organisation some thought to avoid putting yourselves in breach of the first aid regulations. One final point – if anyone holds a first aid certificate that expires after 16th March 2020 and you cannot access re-qualification training because of the virus, a 3 months extension to the training requirement will be given. Don’t though lose track of the need to arrange for that retraining.

For further information, please contact Susan Dearden or Stephen Cowley.