In this article
First aid is of vital importance, as it can preserve life, prevent further injury or ill health, and promote recovery. These are known as the three Ps of first aid. In some situations, prompt first aid can make a difference between life or death.
Unfortunately, injuries and illnesses are not uncommon in the workplace. According to the HSE’s 2019/2020 health and safety statistics:
- 111 workers were killed at work.
- 0.7 million workers sustained a non-fatal injury.
- 65,427 non-fatal injuries to workers were reported under RIDDOR.
- 1.6 million cases of work-related ill health (new or long-standing) were reported.
- 38.8 million working days were lost due to work-related ill health (32.5 million) and non-fatal workplace injuries (6.3 million).
These statistics highlight why first aid is vital in the workplace. The outcome of some of these injuries and illnesses would have likely been far worse without first aid.
If an employee is injured or falls ill at work, there should be adequate and appropriate first aid provision to ensure they receive immediate attention. Part of this provision is having suitable first aid equipment, such as a well-stocked first aid kit, to deal with different injuries and incidents.
This article will look at the basic items in a first aid kit. It will also cover the legal requirements and suggested first aid kit contents for specific industries.
Checklist for basic first aid items
A first aid kit is also known as a first aid box. A suitably stocked first aid kit is a minimum requirement for every workplace, regardless of its size.
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), there is no mandatory list of items to be included in a first aid kit. The contents required should be based on a first aid needs assessment. This is essentially a risk assessment, which identifies the most suitable first aid equipment required based on the type of work, the hazards, and other considerations, i.e. the number of employees. The First Aid at Work Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) (Regulation 3) provides guidance on what employers should consider when assessing their first aid needs. Employers will also need to consider COVID-19 in their assessment, as additional equipment may be necessary to protect first-aiders and the casualty from infection.
Employers must always use the findings of their first aid needs assessment to decide on the equipment required. However, the HSE provides a suggested contents list of basic first aid items, for low-risk workplaces, on its first aid webpage.
These items include:
- A general guidance leaflet on first aid.
- Individually wrapped sterile plasters of assorted sizes (hypoallergenic if necessary).
- Sterile eye pads.
- Individually wrapped sterile triangular bandages.
- Individually wrapped large and medium-sized sterile unmedicated wound dressings.
- Disposable gloves (nitrile where possible).
The first aid needs assessment may determine that additional equipment and materials are necessary due to the risks.
This can include supplies, such as:
- Individually wrapped moist wipes.
- Foil blankets.
- Disposable aprons.
- Adhesive hypoallergenic microporous tape.
- Clothing shears.
- Sterile disposable tweezers.
Additional supplies can be included in the first aid kit or separately. However, tablets and medicines are not included in first aid and should not be kept in first aid kits.
As a minimum, in low-risk workplaces, employers should appoint a person to take charge of their first aid arrangements. This includes looking after facilities and equipment and calling the emergency services.
BS 8599-1 first aid kit
British Standard BS 8599-1 covers the contents of workplace first aid kits, which can be a useful guide for employers. In BS 8599-1, the size of the first aid kit and contents are determined by the number of employees and the category of hazard.
|Category of hazard||Number of employees||Size of first aid kit|
e.g. offices, shops, libraries etc.
|Less than 25||1 x small kit|
|25 to 100||1 x medium kit|
|More than 100||1 x large kit per 100 employees|
|High-hazard environment, e.g. engineering, assembly work,
food processing, construction etc.
|Less than 5||1 x small kit|
|5 to 25||1 x medium kit|
|More than 25||1 x large kit per 25 employees|
|BS 8599-1 first aid kit contents list|
|Small kit||Medium kit||Large kit|
|Medium sterile dressing||2||4||6|
|Large sterile dressing||2||3||4|
|Eye pad dressing||2||3||4|
|Nitrile gloves (pairs)||6||9||12|
|Burn dressing (10x10cm)||1||2||3|
|Sterile eyewash 250ml||1||1||1|
Many first aid kits are sold as BS 8599-1 compliant. However, it is not mandatory to purchase these first aid kits or follow the suggested contents list in the above tables. If a BS 8599-1 first aid kit is purchased, employers will still need to use their needs assessment to ensure the contents cover anticipated injuries and ill health incidents.
The Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981
The Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981 apply to all workplaces, including those with less than five employees and the self-employed. Under the regulations, employers have a duty to provide adequate and appropriate first aid provision, which includes:
- Trained personnel, e.g. first-aiders in high-risk workplaces or an appointed person in low-risk workplaces.
- Equipment, e.g. stocked first aid kits with bandages, wipes, plasters, gloves and scissors.
- Facilities, e.g. first aid room.
Having suitable first aid provision ensures that employees receive immediate help in the event of an injury or ill health.
The First Aid at Work ACOP states that all employers should provide, for each work site, at least one first aid container with a sufficient quantity of first aid materials suitable for the particular circumstances.
The regulations also require first aid equipment to be suitably marked, easily accessible and available in all places where working conditions need it. Most employees are familiar with the green first aid boxes with white crosses.
Employers are not legally required to provide first aid to non-employees, e.g. members of the public or school children. However, it is good practice, and the HSE strongly recommends including them when assessing first aid needs.
Employers must inform employees of their first aid arrangements, including the location of equipment, facilities and personnel.
Office first aid kit
Compared to other workplaces, such as construction sites, offices are low risk. However, this does not mean that injuries and ill health don’t occur. The injuries that could happen in an office environment are (this list is not exhaustive):
- Burns and scalds from contact with hot water, steam and hot surfaces, e.g. when preparing hot food and drinks.
- Musculoskeletal injuries and foot injuries from manual handling of office equipment and supplies.
- Sprains and fractures from slips, trips and falls on the same level.
- Cuts and punctures from using office equipment, e.g. scissors and guillotines.
- Head injuries due to objects falling from height, e.g. from shelves.
- Cuts, bruises and fractures due to individuals falling from height, e.g. using steps.
- Electrical injuries, such as shocks.
- Skin and eye irritation from contact with hazardous substances, such as cleaning chemicals.
When deciding on the contents of the first aid kit for an office, i.e. desk-based work, employers can start with the suggested list on the HSE first aid webpage. It might also be useful to have eyewash, moist wipes, microporous tape, face shields and alcohol sanitiser (for COVID-19).
If employers decide to use a BS 8599-1 first aid kit, they should follow the guidelines for low-hazard environments. For example, an office with less than 25 employees would require a small first aid kit. Employers must still ensure that the supplies within it reflect the findings of the needs assessment.
Childcare first aid kit
If a business looks after children under five years old (e.g. nurseries, schools and childminders), it will also need to comply with the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) statutory framework, as well as the Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981. The EYFS (3.50) states that “providers must ensure there is a first-aid box accessible at all times with appropriate content for use with children“.
Infants and children are prone to many different types of injuries, such as:
- Bumps, cuts, grazes and bleeding.
- Burns and scalds.
- Eye injuries.
- Head injuries.
- Bone injuries and sprains.
- Sickness and vomiting.
- Stings and bites.
Injuries from falling over are the most common, as children run around, climb and jump.
The contents of the first aid kit must meet the needs of the infants and children being cared for in the childcare setting or on outings. The needs assessment must also take into account the number of children at any one time.
First aid kits for children are not so different from standard kits. However, the plasters and dressings may be decorative to ease an upset child, and bravery stickers may be included. It may also contain adhesive tape, vomit bags, thermometers, instant ice packs and eyewash. First aid kits must always be kept out of reach of children and never contain medicines.
Paediatric first aid kits, which are BS 8599-1 compliant, can be purchased. They usually contain information specific to infant and child first aid with details on how to treat injuries.
We can offer a Paediatric First Aid Training course for those already qualified in first aid and those looking for some refresher training. The course covers first aid box requirements for infants and children.
Catering and hospitality first aid kit
Catering and hospitality include workplaces such as commercial kitchens, hotels, restaurants, cafes, fast food outlets, pubs and clubs. Many different injuries can occur when working in these types of environments, for example:
- Burns and scalds from contact with hot water, steam, hot oil, flames and hot surfaces.
- Sprains and fractures from slips, trips and falls, which is the most common cause of injury.
- Musculoskeletal injuries and foot injuries from manual handling.
- Cuts and lacerations from using equipment and utensils, such as knives.
- Amputations and severe injuries where machinery is used, e.g. slicing machines.
- Head injuries from falling objects.
- Skin and eye irritation from contact with various hazardous substances, such as cleaning chemicals. Some chemicals can also cause breathing problems if used in excess in a poorly ventilated area.
- Electrical injuries, such as shocks.
Employers should also take into account non-employees when doing their first aid needs assessment. Customers can fall ill whilst on the premises, e.g. allergic reactions and cardiac arrest. Therefore, a defibrillator and resuscitation kit may be required.
First aid kits for catering and hospitality will need to contain items that reflect the risks employees and others could be exposed to whilst on the premises. In addition to the basic first aid kit items, e.g. plasters, dressings, bandages and gloves, employers may also consider:
- Hydrogel burn dressings and gels.
- Waterproof brightly coloured plasters, bandages and dressings (usually blue) for food safety.
- Clothing shears.
- Foil blankets.
- Face shields.
- Alcohol sanitiser (COVID-19).
Catering first aid kits are available to purchase from various suppliers, as well as specific kits for burns.
If employers decide to use a BS 8599-1 first aid kit, it should be for high-hazard environments and the number of employees (and others) on-site. Remember, the supplies within the first aid kit should reflect the findings of the needs assessment.
Construction first aid kit
Construction is a high-risk industry. According to the 2019/2020 HSE construction statistics, approximately 2.8% of workers in this industry suffered from an injury. The percentage of injuries in construction was significantly higher than all of the other high-risk industries put together.
Construction workers are at risk of many different severe injuries due to the harsh environments they work in, the substances they are exposed to, and the types of equipment they use.
Some examples of injuries include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Eye injuries due to exposure to hazardous substances (e.g. dust and chemicals) and projectiles.
- Burns from hot work (e.g. grinding and welding), fires, explosions and electrical injuries.
- Musculoskeletal injuries and foot injuries from manual handling heavy loads.
- Cuts and lacerations from using tools and powered equipment, handling materials, and slips, trips and falls.
- Amputations, crush injuries and severe bleeding from contact with various types of hazardous machinery and equipment.
- Head and body injuries from falling objects.
- Fractures and other trauma injuries from falling from height.
- Temperature-related illnesses, from working outside, such as hypothermia, heat exhaustion and heatstroke.
- Electric shocks.
You can find out more about common construction hazards by accessing our knowledge base here.
The first aid kit for a construction site must be large enough and well stocked to account for the number of workers on-site and the risks. The container must also be robust enough to withstand the harsh environment and stored in a dry location.
Due to the risk of severe injuries in construction, a first aid kit is likely to contain more supplies than a low-risk environment, such as an office. If a BS 8599-1 compliant first aid kit is purchased, it will need to reflect the contents for a high-hazard environment and the number of workers on-site at any one time.
In addition to the basic items, construction employers may also want to consider some additional supplies in their first aid kits, such as:
- Tourniquets and haemostatic dressings for severe bleeding.
- Finger dressings.
- Saline eyewash pods in case of foreign objects or hazardous substances entering the eye.
- Foil blankets for hypothermia and shock.
- Hydrogel burn dressings and gels.
- Clothing shears.
- Clinical waste bags.
- Alcohol sanitiser (COVID-19).
The contents of the first aid kit and any other necessary equipment will depend on the first aid needs assessment. If the construction site is remote from medical services, this will also need to be considered when looking at the first aid kit contents.
Monitoring first aid kits
First aid kits, in all workplaces, must be checked regularly to ensure that:
- They are well stocked, and no items are missing.
- There is no damage to the kit container or contents.
- Sterile items have not expired.
- There are no unauthorised items, e.g. medication and tablets.
If any items in first aid kits have been used, they must be replenished quickly. Any items that have expired should be disposed of safely. Why not use our first aid kit contents checklist to monitor your supplies. It is based on BS 8599-1 kits, although it can be adapted to suit your specific situation.
First aid is of vital importance in the workplace, as it can saves lives. Prompt action can also prevent an injury or ill health from worsening, which can improve the outcome for the casualty.
To comply with the law, employers must have adequate and appropriate first aid provision to ensure any injuries or ill health incidents are attended to immediately. A first aid kit with suitable supplies is a vital part of this requirement. All employers, regardless of their size, must have at least one first aid kit as a minimum.
A first aid needs assessment is required to determine how many first aid kits are required, the items needed inside the container and any other necessary equipment. Employers can choose BS 8599-1 compliant first aid kits that are industry specific. However, they still need to ensure the kits cover their first aid needs.
If employers are unsure what to put in their first aid kits, they should always seek professional advice. First aid suppliers can also provide guidance on what to include.