What is a first aider?

First aid is defined as the immediate medical assistance given in an emergency situation.  Thus a first aider is the term used to identify a person who is qualified to render first aid to others.

Specifically, a first aider is a person has who undergone specific training in first aid, and has been assessed as competent to deliver it to others.  First Aiders should have a current valid first aid certificate in either:

The duration of the training for the FAW certificate is 3 days (18 hours) and for the EFAW, one day (6 hours).

In each case, training must be given, and certificates must be issued by a training organisation approved by the HSE, or in the case of the EFAW, this can also be awarded by a recognised awarding body of OfQual / Scottish Qualifications Authority.

Both certificates must be renewed after three years.  Hence a person who has a lapsed certificate can no longer be considered a qualified first aider.

Roles and Responsibilities

If effective emergency treatment is delivered to a patient before the arrival of professional help it may save the patient’s life and/or reduce the effects of the injury or illness.  Therefore, the role of a first aider is to provide the first response in an emergency, including:

  • Assessing the situation without endangering the first aider’s own life
  • Preserving life (or lives)- that of the first aider and that of the casualty and others around them.
  • Preventing the situation from getting worse (e.g. by removing dangers such as stopping traffic, or acting to prevent the casualty’s condition from getting worse).
  • Promoting recovery
  • Where possible, trying to identify the disease or condition from which the casualty is suffering
  • Providing immediate and appropriate assistance when someone is suddenly taken ill at work or becomes injured.
  • Calling an ambulance if necessary (or delegating the calling of an ambulance to someone responsible nearby)
  • Staying with the injured/sick person until they are handed over to skill medical care, if appropriate, or until they have been deemed well enough to go home or back to work.
  • Assisting with the cleaning up and disinfection of the area if spilled body fluids are present
  • Restocking the first aid kit after use or making arrangements for this to be done.
  • Completing the accident form and any other paperwork required by the company.

Person Specification

Being a first aider is a responsible position, so thought needs to be given as to who is most suitable to carry it out.  If your company’s risk assessment has indicated that the company needs one first aider, at least two should be trained to the same level, in order to ensure that they provide cover for one another for sickness and holidays etc.

First aiders must be able to immediately leave their normal duties without notice to be able to attend to a person who has become ill or injured.

The first aider needs to be someone who can:

  • attend a first aid course and pass the assessments, demonstrating competence in the field
  • leave their role or normal duties to be able to deliver first aid
  • be close enough ideally to get to any part of the building (or site) within 3 minutes, preferably sooner
  • be calm and reassuring
  • be confident  and conscientious
  • be clear headed under pressure
  • be able to assess a situation quickly and grasp enormity of it
  • be capable of making decisions quickly and decisively
  • be unconcerned by the sight of blood!
  • Be empowered to issue first aid instructions to all members of the workforce, regardless of their  role and seniority within the company
  • have good communication skills
  • be practical and resourceful
  • be able to improvise if necessary

Which course should I send my first aiders on?

You should use your risk assessment to determine whether your first aiders should hold the FAW or the EFAW certificate.  For more information on risk assessments, download our Risk Assessment ebook, and visit the HSE’s First Aid website.

The HSE strongly recommend that all first aiders undertake a ½ day refresher First Aid at Work course annually in order to combat skills fade.

First Aid Incident Debriefing

In the event that your first aiders are called upon to deal with an incident or accident that is unpleasant, it is important to take to take the time afterwards to check that they themselves are ok. Many people are able to deal with quite traumatic situations well at the time of the event. However afterwards when they injured person has been conveyed to hospital, the enormity of what they have just done will hit them.

It is really important that in the first instance, managers take the time to thank the first aiders for their efforts. This simple thing goes a long way to helping first aiders psychologically process the events.

Secondly, it is worth taking the time to formally “debrief” the first aiders and it may be that other team members are included as a means of dealing with the situation.

Debriefing doesn’t have to be complicated. Sitting down over a cup of tea and having a chat about what just happened is a good way of letting people talk over the events.

This is not the time and place to criticise working practices or to apportion blame – other investigations may be necessary for that.  This is the process by which first aiders can reflect upon their actions and see what they can learn from them so that future events may be handled differently.

Debriefing Questions

A few structured questions may help guide the discussion:

  • What happened?
  • Who got there first?
  • What did you see/hear/feel smell?
  • What did you do next?
  • With hindsight could you / should you have done anything differently?
  • What have you learned from today?
  • How do we move forward?
  • How do we feel about the events now we have had a chance to reflect upon them?
  • Does anyone feel they need to take this further?  (i.e. seek professional help?)

It is normal to have reactions to traumatic events. Feelings of numbness, disconnection and fear are common, as are bad dreams and an inability to stop thinking about the event. These are normal reactions to traumatic experiences and are generally short lived. Over time the mind will process the events and associated emotions and enable the person to move on psychologically. Thorough debriefing is very important in facilitating this process.

Failure to process events properly may, for some individuals, lead on to post traumatic stress disorder which managers should be aware of.  This is particularly important if employees have been faced with serious traumatic events including actual or threatened death, or serious injury.

More Information

For more information on post traumatic stress disorder see:

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