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Best Practices: Federal OSHA's Fundamentals of a Workplace First Aid Program; Are You Ready to Respond to Medical Emergencies?
September 2006
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Employers in California are required to ensure that medical treatment is readily available to sick or injured workers under General Industry Safety Order Section 3400, Medical Services and First Aid. The California standard is somewhat more detailed than federal OSHA's regulation, found in the Code of Federal Regulations (Chapter 29, Section 1910.151), but California employers may still find useful information and advice in federal OSHA's new guidance document, Fundamentals of a Workplace First Aid Program.

The Standard's Requirements

Under California's regulation, employers must ensure that medical personnel and facilities are available close to the workplace. The state Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) has stated that a response time of three to four minutes for life-threatening emergencies is acceptable (for what you're expected to do if you cannot meet this goal, see below); for less serious emergencies, longer response times are allowed. Think about your nearest hospital or ambulance service--could its personnel be expected to be on-site, providing first aid to an individual with severe burns, bleeding, heart attack, or stroke, within four minutes? If your employees work in a location that would prevent emergency medical care from reaching them quickly, the law requires you to provide first aid materials and workers who are trained to use them on-site.

You're required to inspect your first aid materials frequently (although no specific interval is given) to make sure they're well stocked, sanitary, and in usable condition. If you don't have ambulance service within 30 minutes of your workplace, your first aid supplies must include stretchers, blankets, or other adequate warm coverings. If corrosive materials are present, quick-drench showers and eyewash facilities must be provided.

At isolated worksites, you have to make sure in advance that you've provided:

  • on-site medical facilities, or
  • equipment that can transport injured workers to a physician, or
  • a telephone communication system that will enable workers to quickly contact a doctor

Or, you may provide some combination of these three that eliminates any delay in treating a sick or injured worker.

Fundamentals of a Workplace First Aid Program

In most workplaces, whether they are large industrial facilities, remote logging operations, or downtown office buildings, the response time for emergency personnel will exceed the three to four minutes that DOSH considers acceptable in a life-threatening situation. Most workplaces, then, will need to have workers trained in first aid to respond to these emergencies. The training you provide must be equivalent to what the American Red Cross or the Mining Enforcement and Safety Administration would provide.

Federal OSHA's new guidelines for establishing a first aid program suggest that employers:

  • Consult with local fire departments and emergency medical services providers about their expected response times at any hour of the day or night when they might be needed.
  • Consider language issues, both when orienting workers in their workplace first aid program and in selecting workers who will be trained to provide first aid.
  • Bear in mind that workers who are required as part of their job duties to provide first aid are also covered by the bloodborne pathogens standard (GISO Section 5193).
  • Choose first aid supplies based on the types of injuries or illnesses that are likely to occur. For detailed advice on stocking a first aid kit, you can consult the American National Standards Institute's publication ANSI Z308.1 - 2003, Minimum Requirements for Workplace First Aid Kits.
  • Assign a worker to inspect and restock first aid kits as necessary.
  • Provide automated external defibrillators (AEDs). Sudden cardiac arrest strikes a quarter of a million Americans away from hospitals each year according to the American Heart Association. AEDs could save many lives if they were available. For more advice on putting AEDs in your workplace, see the September 2005 issue of COCA.

Find Out More

Federal OSHA's Fundamentals of a Workplace First Aid Program is available from the OSHA website, and Minimum Requirements for Workplace First Aid Kits can be purchased from the American National Standards Institute's eStore. First aid courses are provided by the American Red Cross (find the location nearest you through the American Red Cross website), the National Safety Council, the American Heart Association, and other nationally recognized and private educational organizations.

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