Did you know that in 2013 87% of Australian businesses were failing in their workplace first aid duties?
This essentially means that millions of employees were put at risk due to lack of workplace first aid awareness. St Johns Ambulance Australia states that administering first aid in the first five minutes after an accident can dramatically change the outcome. So what are an employer’s obligations and duties when it comes to first aid and emergencies in the workplace? We take a look.
An employer has a duty to manage the risk of injury in the workplace. As part of this risk management an employer has certain obligations when it comes to workplace first aid and emergency plans. The requirements of such may vary from one workplace to another depending on the nature of the work and the types of hazards present, as well as the size and location of the workplace, and number and composition of workers in the workplace.
An emergency plan should be based on a practical assessment of hazards associated with the work activity or workplace and the possible consequences of an emergency occurring as a result of those hazards. An emergency plan must set out:
- Emergency procedures, which include:
- An effective response to an emergency;
- Evacuation procedures;
- Notifying emergency service organisations at the earliest opportunity;
- Medical treatment and assistance;
- Effective communication between the authorised person coordinating the emergency response and all persons at the workplace;
- Testing of the emergency procedures, including the frequency of the testing;
- Information, training and instruction to relevant workers in relation to implementing the emergency procedures.
A high risk workplace may require additional information in their emergency plans, such as those workplaces that include work with confined spaces, asbestos, hazardous chemicals, or demolition or refurbishment etc.
Emergency workplace procedures
Further, it is also an employer’s obligation to ensure all workers are aware of workplace emergency procedures in the workplace such as:
- Who to report to in an emergency;
- Emergency telephone numbers (including fire service, doctor and ambulance, and poisons information centre);
- Evacuation procedures and the designated meeting place;
- The type of fire extinguisher to use for different fires.
Employers also have specific obligations in relation to workplace first aid, including the requirement to:
- Provide first aid equipment and ensure each worker at the workplace has access to the equipment;
- Ensure access to facilities for the administration of first aid;
- Ensure that an adequate number of workers are trained to administer first aid at the workplace or that workers have access to an adequate number of other people who have been trained to administer first aid.
A first aid kit should provide the basic equipment for administering first aid for minor/non-life threatening injuries. Any additional contents of a first aid kit should be based upon a risk assessment identifying the likelihood of a certain type of injury occurring from any potential hazards due to the nature of the work being carried out i.e. working at heights, working with hazardous chemicals etc.
How many first aiders should there be?
The First Aid in the Workplace Code of Practice 2021 recommends the following ratios for the number of trained first aiders:
- Low risk workplace – 1 first aider for every 50 workers;
- High risk workplace – 1 first aider for every 25 workers.
It is also a good idea for employers to train additional first aiders should the applicable person/s be away on holidays, out of the office, or away sick when the injury requiring first aid occurs.
Injuries and First Aid
While a worker may be successful in proving liability in a common law claim for damages against their employer for their employer’s failure in their obligations and duties when it comes to first aid, the severity of the injury suffered is likely to determine whether the claim is worth pursuing. For example the damages recoverable would be calculated on any additional injury or worsening of the original injury due to the failure to render or have available the appropriate first aid, and not necessarily on the original injury that led to the requirement for first aid in the first place (i.e. only damages pertaining to the lack of first aid that caused the original injury to worsen or caused an additional injury are claimable).
An injured worker would need to prove that if the appropriate and required first aid was available to them then the severity of their injury suffered would be far less if they had received the appropriate treatment immediately. This is a medical determination to be made by an appropriate medical specialist. Each set of circumstances leading to any further injury as a result of limited or no workplace first aid would need to be assessed on a case by case basis.
Workplace accidents can happen at any time and it is therefore important that each workplace has in place proper first aid and emergency procedures. It may be the case that this treatment and procedures make a significant impact to the outcome of a worker’s injury and recovery.