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Knowledge Base » Health and Safety » What should be in a First Aid Kit?

What should be in a First Aid Kit?

Last updated on 20th December 2023

In a medical emergency, it’s important to act quickly. According to some sources, a lack of first aid skills in the UK puts up to 150,000 lives at risk every single year. Indeed, whilst a first aid kit won’t necessarily help you perform CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), thousands of people die every year due to a lack of knowledge, skills and confidence of those around them if they suffer a cardiac arrest.

Around 693,000 people suffered a non-fatal injury at work in 2019/2020 accruing a total of around 6.3 million working days lost. Having the right equipment within easy reach is of utmost importance. First aid kits are a simple way of ensuring that, no matter where we are, we have access to equipment that can help save someone’s life or prevent an injury from getting worse.

What is a first aid kit?

Most of us will be familiar with the little white cross on a green bag or box letting us know that there’s a first aid kit inside. The contents of these kits are crucially important, and we need to make sure that they’re stocked and ready for someone’s time in need. Reaching for a first aid kit and finding it empty could have serious repercussions for the ill or injured.

First aid kits were first thought up by Johnson & Johnson in 1888. A conversation aboard a train between Robert Wood Johnson and the Denver & Rio Grande Railway’s chief surgeon sparked an idea.

The surgeon explained to Johnson that the unique injuries sustained in railroad construction often happened far from hospitals. Johnson saw this as a business opportunity and created the first commercial First Aid Kit. It is fair to say that first aid kits have come a long way since those early railroad days. But the principle is still the same: having equipment to hand to help treat and save an injured or ill person until medical treatment arrives.

Woman opening first aid kit

What should be in a first aid kit?

Whilst there’s no set rule as to what every first aid kit should include, there are some basic items that are thought essential for the contents of a first aid kit:

  • Sticking plasters in different shapes and sizes.
  • Blister plasters in different shapes and sizes.
  • Sterile gauze dressings in different sizes.
  • Triangular bandages.
  • Crêpe rolled bandages.
  • Two sterile eye dressings.
  • Safety pins.
  • Tweezers.
  • Alcohol-free cleansing wipes.
  • Disposable sterile gloves.
  • Scissors.
  • Adhesive tape.
  • Digital thermometer.
  • Creams for rashes such as calendula cream.
  • Insect bite or sting cream.
  • Antiseptic cream such as Germolene or Savlon.
  • Painkillers such as Paracetamol and Ibuprofen (perhaps also in liquid form for children).
  • Antihistamine tablets or cream.
  • Distilled water for wound cleansing.
  • Eye bath and eyewash.
  • Face mask and/or protective shield.
  • Disposable protective apron.
  • Sanitary products such as sanitary towels and tampons.
  • A first aid book or manual.

The list above is comprehensive, but it’s important to realise that not all first aid kits will be the same. Many places also have additional items included depending on the location of the first aid kit and on the types of illnesses or injuries that are more likely to occur in a certain location.

Let’s take a look at some of the items in a little more detail and outline why they are important.

Sterile dressings

A range of dressings should be included in any first aid kit. After all, cuts, grazes and other skin wounds are one of the most common reasons that someone gets out the first aid kit.

  • Plasters: These are used for small grazes and cuts. Special gel plasters are also available that help treat blisters. A good first aid kit should have both waterproof and fabric plasters too. Depending on the location of the first aid kit, blue plasters are also needed in first aid kits, particularly in catering environments.
  • Dressings: Dressings are used where the area or the wound is too large for a plaster. They are absorbent and help stop a wound from bleeding by applying pressure as well as preventing infection. Dressing pads that are attached to a bandage are incredibly useful to have in first aid kits as the bandage helps to keep the dressing part in the right place. Eye dressings are specifically designed to place over an injured eye and can be either adhesive or have a bandage attached to tie the dressing in place.


There are many different types of bandages that can be put in a first aid kit. Bandages are often the second most used item in a first aid kit after dressings.

  • Roll bandages: These can be used to hold dressings in place and help put added pressure on wounds until medical attention can be sought. They can also be used to support a joint in the event of a likely sprain or break and can stop swelling. Additionally, they can be used to create splints either from another limb or from another type of support. There are different types of roll bandages including open-weave roll bandages, conforming roll bandages, support roll bandages and self-adhesive roll bandages.
  • Triangular bandages: Triangular bandages are essentially a triangular piece of cloth. They can be folded to make a bandage but are most often used as a sling if someone has injured their arm or shoulder. If they are wrapped in sterile packaging, they can also be used as a large dressing for burns or other wounds.
  • Tubular bandages: Often known as Tubigrip bandages, these are a multi-purpose tubular bandage. They are most often used to support injured joints such as wrists, elbows, knees and ankles. They are elasticated and often come in a roll that can be trimmed to the right size.

Medications and creams

Whilst it’s not possible (or legal) to lug an entire pharmacy around in a first aid kit, having some basic medications available is a good idea.

  • Painkillers: Painkillers are useful to have but they must be used with caution. Common painkillers include Paracetamol, Ibuprofen and Aspirin, but there are contraindications for the use of these in many people, so you must ask the person before administering any kind of pain relief. Both Paracetamol and Ibuprofen are available in a flavoured liquid form for children but, again, permission must be sought from parents before any pain relief is administered. In most schools, for example, they are not permitted to administer any pain relief medications.
  • Wound cleansing wipes: These are essential for cleansing a wound before dressing it. Alcohol-free wipes are better due to their reduced sting on application. Wound cleansing wipes should be wrapped in individual foil packets to keep them sterile.
  • Antiseptic creams: Antiseptic creams are a good option for applying to cuts and grazes once they have been cleaned with a wound cleansing wipe.
  • Antihistamine medication: Antihistamines come in tablet, liquid and cream forms. An antihistamine cream helps reduce the itch and rash associated with allergies or insect bites. However, as with pain killers, it’s important to seek permission before administering any tablets or liquid medication to those in need, especially children.
  • Bite and sting relief cream: Bite and sting relief cream is an ideal component of a first aid kit, particularly in the summer months when insect bites and stings are more common. They work by reducing the effects of the bite or sting and by relieving the symptoms such as the itch and associated pain.
  • Rash creams or lotions: There are many choices of cream or lotion for different rashes. For a generic rash, calendula cream is a good choice to have. For chickenpox, camomile lotion is known to be effective.
  • Eye bath and eyewash: Eyes can be tricky to deal with and so having access to an eyewash and eye bath can make handling eye injuries a lot easier.

Protective items

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are perhaps now more aware than ever before of the risks associated with close contact with another person, particularly where bodily fluids and open wounds are concerned. So, any good first aid kit needs some protective items to prevent cross-contamination or infection in the first-aider.

  • Disposable face masks: Most of us are now familiar with disposable face masks. These are sensible to use when treating someone with a first aid kit to minimise the risk of exposing someone to infection, whether they are the person being treated or the person carrying out the first aid.
  • Disposable apron: Disposable aprons are not always necessary, but they do serve to protect the person administering first aid in the event of excessive bleeding, vomiting or infection.
  • Face shield: Whilst not offering a lot of protection from airborne pathogens on their own, they do protect the wearer’s face from contamination to a certain degree, especially when combined with a face mask.
  • CPR masks or shields: If needing to administer CPR, a CPR mask or shield is a device that can be applied to the casualty’s mouth to enable a safer way of administering rescue breaths during CPR.
  • Disposable gloves: Gloves are important both for the casualty and the first-aider as they protect against contamination of wounds or from bodily fluids for the first-aider. Given that many people are allergic to latex, latex-free gloves are the best choice for a first aid kit.

Tools and other equipment

In a first aid kit, the following bits of equipment can greatly help in the administering of first aid:

  • Scissors: Scissors are needed when trimming bandages or dressings to size as well as having the option of cutting clothing to be able to access an injury more easily.
  • Tweezers: Tweezers can be used to remove insect stings, tics as well as splinters.
  • Safety pins: Safety pins have lots of uses, but in a first aid kit they’re most often used to pin tied bandages or slings.
  • Adhesive tape: Adhesive tape can help to secure bandages or dressings so that they remain in place.
  • Foil blanket: Foil blankets help to retain body heat for those who are injured or unwell. This is especially important if the person is exposed to the elements on a cold day or is in a cold location. Foil blankets are also important if the person was injured during vigorous activity as they are likely to get cold quickly. Many people who are badly injured or ill can also go into shock, so they must be able to maintain their temperature whilst receiving first aid treatment.
  • Digital thermometer: A fever is a sign of infection in many people. Digital thermometers are best because they give quick and accurate readings and can be sanitised quickly and easily.
  • Sanitary products: Whilst most women are prepared, there is always the chance that someone is caught short and needs sanitary protection. Whilst this isn’t necessarily a first aid product, having a supply of sanitary towels and tampons can greatly help support those in need in an emergency where access to products is not available.
  • A first aid book: Whilst you may not have time to read a first aid guide in an emergency, it’s always wise to have some guidance and instructions to hand just in case you need to check something.
Tools in first aid kit

Which first aid kit is right for you?

Choosing the right first aid kit is dependent on where it will be kept and the likelihood of certain injuries or illnesses in that location. Organisations should each have their own risk assessments. When looking for a first aid kit, it is important to keep any risk assessments in mind. The Health and Safety Executive have guidance on the different requirements of first aid kits for different locations.

Places such as offices should have a first aid kit that is set up for a low-risk environment whereas a factory is a more high-risk environment and should have a first aid kit that is suitable.

There are also requirements for specific environments such as in catering where blue plasters are required if an injury occurs. This is so that, should the plaster fall off and contaminate food, it can be easily spotted, and the contaminated food disposed of.

It is recommended that first aid kits in workplaces conform to the required British Standard BS 8599-1. This standard was first introduced in 2011 and was updated in January 2019. It is not law, but it is recommended that workplace first aid kits comply with the standard.

The standard outlines the size of the first aid kit that a workplace should have based on the number of employees and how hazardous the environment is. For example, a shop that has less than 25 employees only needs one small first aid kit whereas a high-risk environment such as a construction site with over 25 employees needs a large kit for every 25 employees.

The standard outlines what should be included in each size kit. You can purchase kits that are ready-made for the size and risk assessment of a workplace.

What should be in a burns first aid kit?

Burns are a common injury that occurs in many homes, workplaces and even schools. If burns are outlined as a specific risk in a workplace environment, special burns first aid kits are available. As well as standard first aid equipment, a burns first aid kit also contains special burns dressings in different sizes, burns plasters, and burns gel.

Burns dressings are specifically designed to be non-adherent to skin. This means that they won’t stick to damaged skin, which is important when dealing with fragile, burnt and painful skin.

They also work to cool the area and minimise any skin damage. Burn gel provides instant pain relief and comfort for anyone who’s suffered from a burn. It also helps to minimise skin damage and skin trauma as well as cooling the area. Despite being cool, they do not require refrigeration.

What should be in a first aid kit in offices?

Offices are a relatively low-risk environment and so a standard first aid kit is usually sufficient for an office. For an office with fewer than 25 employees, a small-sized first aid kit is all that’s needed. For offices with 25–100 employees, there should be a medium-sized first aid kit, and for large offices of over 100 employees, there should be a large first aid kit for every 100 employees.

According to the HSE, the first aid kit for an office-based workplace should include:

  • A guidance leaflet on first aid.
  • Sterile plasters that are individually wrapped in assorted sizes.
  • Sterile eye dressings.
  • Individually wrapped triangular bandages.
  • Safety pins.
  • Unmedicated sterile dressings that are individually wrapped in assorted sizes.
  • Disposable gloves.

The HSE also recommend buying an appropriately sized kit for your workplace that meets the British Standard BS 8599-1.

What should be in a school’s first aid kit?

Many of us are familiar with the adage that, when children have a minor injury at school, they’re asked to put a wet paper towel on it. However, in reality, schools do take first aid much more seriously.

Schools and colleges have a duty of care to their students and, as such, they have their own minimum requirements when it comes to first aid. A school’s first aid kit must be kept in a suitable container and kept well-stocked following the requirements that the HSE suggest.

Schools also need an appointed, designated first-aider who oversees all first aid arrangements as well as other staff who can take the lead should the first-aider be absent or otherwise engaged. Furthermore, all workers in schools should be aware of who to contact if someone in their care needs first aid as well as the location of any first aid equipment.

Given that children are generally at higher risk of accidents due to their age, first aid kits in schools are well-used. Schools need to have a rigorous auditing method for their first aid kits to replace any used items as soon as possible.

There is no mandatory list for school first aid kits; however, it’s advised by the HSE that they include the following:

  • A guidance leaflet on first aid.
  • A minimum of 20 sterile dressings such as plasters that are individually wrapped in assorted sizes.
  • Two sterile eye dressings.
  • Individually wrapped triangular bandages.
  • Six safety pins.
  • Six medium-sized sterile dressings that are individually wrapped.
  • Two large-sized sterile dressings that are individually wrapped.
  • Two individually wrapped triangular bandages.
  • Three pairs of disposable gloves.

Schools must also have travel first aid kits for trips and outings and identify any risks that may need additional items in the first aid kit for specific activities.

The minimum for a travel first aid kit for a school visit should include:

  • Six sterile adhesive dressings that are individually wrapped.
  • One large sterile dressing that is individually wrapped.
  • Two triangular bandages.
  • Two safety pins.
  • Individually wrapped moist wound cleansing wipes.
  • Two pairs of disposable gloves.

Aside from first aid kits, schools and colleges should be encouraged to buy an automatic external defibrillator (AED) for use in the event of a cardiac arrest. The DfE has made arrangements for schools to be able to buy AED devices at a reduced cost.

School taking essentials on day trip

What should be in a first aid kit in hospitality?

Hospitality includes workplaces with increased hazards such as commercial kitchens, restaurants, bars, cafés, clubs and hotels.

There are therefore many injuries that can occur in these places including:

  • Injuries from trips and falls – This is the most common injury in hospitality.
  • Scalds and burns from cooking or from kettles in hotel rooms.
  • Lacerations and cuts from using knives and other kitchen equipment.
  • Injuries from specialised equipment use such as slicing machines in kitchens.
  • Chemical injuries such as burns or breathing difficulties from cleaning products.
  • Electric shock injuries.
  • Head injuries due to items falling from height.
  • Injuries incurred from the manual handling of heavy items such as furniture or stock.

Due to the range of possible injuries in hospitality, a well-stocked first aid kit is a must.

In addition to the usual bandages, dressings and gloves, it should also include:

  • Burns gel and burns dressings.
  • Waterproof blue plasters for use in catering environments.
  • Eyewash.
  • Foil blankets.
  • A face shield.
  • Alcohol-based sanitiser.
  • Clothing shears.

It is possible to buy ready-made first aid kits specific to the hospitality and catering industry that are compliant with the British Standard BS 8599-1, the size of which is dependent on the needs of the hospitality business and the number of employees.

What should be in a first aid kit at home?

At home, many of us have a stash of first aid supplies but they’re not always stored in the best possible way. You might have a box of plasters in a drawer, a couple of bandages in a box under the stairs and a foil blanket in an old rucksack for when you go out hiking.

However, given that your home is the most likely place where an injury or an illness will occur, it is sensible to have a well-stocked first aid kid that is easy to find.

Your home first aid kit can be quite large as you shouldn’t need to transport it anywhere, so go ahead and stock it with anything that you think might be useful. As well as the usual assortment of plasters and bandages that all first aid kits should have (as mentioned above).

A home first aid kit could also include the following useful items:

  • Paracetamol and Ibuprofen in both tablet and liquid form.
  • A cold compress for injuries (you may want to keep this ready in your fridge or freezer though unless you’ve got an instant one).
  • A heat pack.
  • A blanket.
  • Torch (in the event of a power cut!).
  • Burns gel.
  • Digital thermometer.
  • Tweezers.
  • Throat lozenges.
  • Antihistamines.
  • Sting and bite relief gel.
  • Imodium/Loperamide diarrhoea medication.
  • Dioralyte rehydration sachets.
  • Stool softener.
  • Sudafed or an equivalent decongestant.
  • Hot lemon medication flu-relief drink sachets.

What should be in a first aid kit in sports?

When it comes to sports, it’s important to have a well-stocked first aid kit as there is a risk of injury with any sport.

Aside from the usual contents of a first aid kit, as outlined above, sports first aid kits could include the following:

  • Ibuprofen gel for sprains or other injuries.
  • Instant cool packs.
  • Freeze sprays.
  • Deep heat spray.
  • Saline eyewash pods.
  • Foil blanket.

What should be in a first aid kit in construction?

Construction sites are high-risk environments and, as such, there is health and safety legislation that dictates what first aid equipment should be available on such sites. The Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981 require employers to provide appropriate and adequate equipment, facilities and personnel if someone is injured or taken ill at their place of work.

An appointed first-aider should be onsite at all times to help administer first aid.

Aside from the usual first aid kit contents such as plasters and bandages, a first aid kit for a construction site should also include:

  • Sterile eyewash.
  • Foil blanket.
  • Larger dressings.
  • Scissors.

Due to the nature of construction sites and the changing locations, it’s also wise to have a first aid sign and poster that can be mounted at the site in a visible place.

What should be in a first aid kit in healthcare?

In healthcare settings, you should find that first aid materials are easy to come by. However, this is not always the case, and indeed, it’s not always obvious where they are should someone need to use them who is unfamiliar with the site.

In a healthcare setting, a first aid kit should ensure that it contains everything that a standard first aid kit should include, as outlined above. Given the nature of the setting, anything extra that is needed is likely to be able to be provided quite quickly by healthcare practitioners.

What should be in a first aid kit in a dentist?

Whilst you can buy dental first aid kits for emergency dental treatment on the go, that’s not what we’re talking about here. A first aid kit in a dentist should be similar to other first aid kits in workplaces and public places. It should include a range of dressings as well as the regular first aid kit items listed above.

The good thing is that dentists also have access to other medical supplies and so should be able to assist if there’s an injury or illness whilst at work in the dental surgery or whilst visiting as a patient.

Taking first aid training

What should be in a first aid kit in shopping centres?

The most common injuries that happen in shopping centres are trips and falls. These are quite often due to hazards such as wet surfaces or tumbles down staircases and escalators.

Aside from the usual equipment in a first aid kit, shopping centres also usually have portable AEDs in the case of a cardiac arrest. There should be signs located telling members of the public and shopping centre workers where to find both first aid kits and AEDs.

What should be in a first aid kit in a supermarket?

As with shopping centres, the most common injuries that occur in supermarkets are trips and falls. As such, a well-stocked first aid kit is needed and should include dressings and bandages. A supermarket usually has well-trained staff that will help locate a first aid kit should one be needed.

Additionally, it should be easy enough for the supermarket staff to keep on top of supplying the first aid kit stock! There is not anything specific that a first aid kit in a supermarket needs other than the standard supplies in most workforce first aid kits, as outlined above.

What should be in a first aid kit in cafés?

First aid kits in cafés are similar to those in larger hospitality settings, as previously described. Given that café environments require food preparation and the use of high-risk equipment, there should be some additions to a standard first aid kit.

These include:

  • Burns gel and burns dressings.
  • Waterproof blue plasters for use in catering environments.
  • Eyewash.
  • Alcohol-based sanitiser.

Final thoughts on first aid kits

A good first aid kit is only as good as the person administering first aid. You can have all the equipment in the world, but inadequate first aid training could result in poorly administered treatment.

As mentioned, this can have devastating, life-long consequences for those needing first aid treatment. Aside from choosing the right first aid kit, it’s important to have people on the ground in workplaces and schools that are well trained in managing first aid.

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About the author

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Laura Allan

Laura is a former Modern Foreign Languages teacher who now works as a writer and translator. She is also acting Chair of Governors at her children’s primary school. Outside of work, Laura enjoys running and performing in amateur productions.

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