Is your workplace first aid ready for a COVID-safe return to work?

Posted by Pia Abrahams on

Have you assessed your workplace first aid kits and supplies? Photo by Anna Shvets

The Coronavirus pandemic requires a uniquely focused approach to workplace health and safety. While eliminating and controlling workplace hazards is the employer's responsibility, engaging and consulting with staff - both on and off site - is the best form of risk management.

As more Australians return to work, we need to adapt and promote safe work practices together.

Every workplace has a unique set of challenges, but we all face the same concerns. In keeping your workplace safe from COVID-19, how do you and your co-workers manage best-practice workplace first aid?

1. Audit your workplace first aid kit

It may be weeks, or even months, since you’ve been open for business. And while your workplace first aid kit has done nothing but collect dust in your absence, there’s every reason to run a thorough check of it - inside and out - before staff, customers and contractors are back on site.

  • Are all first aid items within expiry dates? Almost every item inside your workplace first aid kit will show an expiry date on the packaging. It’s important to comply with these expiry dates to ensure the product does what it’s meant to in an emergency. While consumables like bandages and swabs generally don’t expire, other first aid products containing active ingredients like melaleuca, adhesive materials like bonding agents, or flexible materials like nitrile, will deteriorate over time, so it’s best to replace them upon expiry.
  • Are first aid supply levels sufficient for a return to work? What was the last workplace first aid incident that occurred prior to lockdown, and were the items used to treat the injury replaced? Did somebody cut themselves and use the last adhesive strips? Was there a tripping incident requiring multiple antiseptic wipes that weren’t replaced? Was the only instant ice pack in the kit used on a bee sting or a sprained ankle? In a workplace emergency, it’s vital that there are sufficient and appropriate first aid supplies for the number of people in the workplace, including staff, contractors, volunteers and visitors.
  • Need help? Click here to organise a first aid kit audit with one of our experienced Brenniston Workplace First Aid Kit Auditors .

2. Assess workplace first aid kit locations in the covid-safe space

Under mandatory COVIDSafe Plans, your workplace will look quite different to pre-pandemic times. In order to maintain social distancing, limit direct physical contact and avoid interactions in enclosed spaces, many well-established work processes will change. 

What does this mean for the workplace first aid kit? Location, location, location!

  • In the event of a serious injury or illness, quick access to your workplace first aid kit is vital. In fact, one of the basic principles of Work Health and Safety requirements is that all workers have access to first aid equipment, located close to areas where there’s a higher risk of injury or illness. 
  • Consider your new workplace layout and how it might affect staff access to workplace first aid kits. Does an extended dining space mean an additional first aid kit for the outdoor waiter’s station? Will every worker on a re-organised meat processing line have access to the Bleed First Aid Kit? Are there any changes to transport arrangements, and will that affect the distribution of first aid kits in work vehicles?
  • With changes to the location of workplace first aid facilities, consider whether signage for the first aid room, first aid kit and the workplace defibrillator (AED) need to be re-positioned or improved. 

3. Consider unexpected hazards in a COVID-safe workplace

Physical and cultural changes to your workplace may come with unexpected work health and safety hazards, including impacts on mental wellbeing. 

  • Manufacturing production lines may be rearranged, open-plan offices and call centres re-mapped, restaurants and bars will extend into outdoor areas, and meetings, lunch breaks and locker rooms across all workplaces will ideally re-locate to open air or high airflow spaces like breezeways. 
  • Is outdoor dining free from tripping hazards? An unexpected gutter, tree root or damaged footpath could cause a burn injury to a waiter or patron. 
  • For staff returning to the workplace after many weeks’ absence, a re-arranged office plan with separated desks and partitions, or a changed production floor with physical barriers, could cause confusion, stress or anxiety, particularly after an extended period of isolation from the physical workplace.
  • Is there a qualified First Aider on every shift? If your staff pool has been re-organised into “workforce bubbles”, where groups of workers are kept to the same rosters to limit interactions across large groups of people, how does this impact access to workplace First Aiders? Do more people need to be first aid-trained and appointed to these vital roles? 

4. Don’t forget Work From Home staff

Staff who can remain working from home are being advised to do so. If you work in a large office with well-established work-from-home protocols, it may be that the majority of the workforce is now firmly entrenched in their spare bedrooms, living rooms or home offices. Regardless of the location, employers are responsible for ensuring that staff working from home are protected by the same Work Health and Safety standards as those in the physical workplace, including the provision of appropriate first aid kits and first aid supplies. So, while you’re dusting off the workplace first aid kit, checking supply levels, expiry dates and COVID-safe accessibility, don’t forget to check the same with work-from-home staff.

5. Enable COVID-safe workplace first aid practice

Fast and effective first aid is almost impossible to apply at a distance. A workplace First Aider is usually required to treat an injured or ill person at close range and with direct contact. Additionally, body fluids like blood, vomit, saliva or heavy perspiration are often present and pose an added infection hazard in the provision of workplace first aid. 

In very serious incidents like heart attack or drowning, a First Aider may need to give Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) with direct mouth-to-mouth rescue breaths. This presents a very high cross-contamination risk and even more reason to keep Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like disposable resuscitation shields in the workplace first aid supply. However, just giving chest compressions (without rescue breaths) is also considered effective and better than giving no CPR at all.

  • Ensure your workplace first aid room or first aid kit is amply stocked with PPE like disposable gloves, resuscitation shields, safety glasses or goggles, and spare face masks. 
  • Infection control measures like hand sanitiser, bio hazard bags or containers, and alcohol surface wipes and alcohol swabs for cleaning first aid equipment are very sensible additions to a COVID-safe workplace first aid supply.
  • Infrared forehead thermometers have become standard additions to most workplace first aid supplies, since fever (body temperature above 37.5°C) is one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19. An infrared forehead thermometer requires no contact with the patient and can easily be disinfected with an alcohol wipe after each use. 
  • Consider keeping a Brenniston National Standard Blood Spill & Vomit Clean-Up Kit on site. While these are well-entrenched workplace essentials for transport, hospitality and community health providers, it’s never too late (or regrettable) for every workplace to be safely prepared for the unexpected! 

All workers are entitled to a healthy and safe workplace, especially in the time of COVID-19. Make your work a safer place.