COVID-19 may have changed our workplaces for the foreseeable future and made accessing relevant first aid training more challenging. Despite this, your obligations under The Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981 (HSFAR) remain unchanged. You still need to follow the HSE’s accompanying L74 guidance (the HSE’s Guidance) - which focuses on the importance of a thorough first aid needs assessments.
What has very likely changed are your workplace and workforce circumstances and how rapidly they are changing. These changes will impact on how you carry out your first aid needs assessment, the outcome and how often you need to review it.
We’ve tried to simplify the minefield of carrying out first aid needs assessments during the pandemic.
Your regulatory first aid duties remain the same
After the panic of the first lockdown, workplaces have had to adapt quickly to advice, which may change often as the science supporting it develops. As we begin another lockdown, it is important to remember that you still have the same obligations with regards to employee safety, including first aid provision.
While you are only required to do what is deemed “so far as reasonably practicable”, cost or time constraints alone are not a factor - only steps that are “technically impossible or if the time, trouble or cost of the measures would be grossly disproportionate to the risk.”
There are still many ways you can meet your first aid legal duties despite the challenges the HSE has set out a number of ways that you can do so:
- reducing first aid cover if you require less than before
- sharing first aid cover with another business
- allowing first-aid certificate extensions to apply where necessary, so long as you are confident they are still fit to act as a first aider, however you must make sure you meet the HSE’s criteria around being able to demonstrate why they were not requalified before expiry.
(We discuss this in more detail here: How can you help ensure first aid cover when your employees return to work?)
Revisiting your first aid needs assessment
The HSE has recommended that employers should consider reviewing their first aid needs at the same time as their COVID-secure risk assessment.
The HSE’s Guidance requires you to periodically review your first aid needs, particularly after any operational changes (s.30). With many having drastic operational changes due to the pandemic, your hazards and risks could have altered or changed, for example:
- An increase in homeworking. There was an 8-fold increase in the number of exclusive homeworkers in the height of lockdown to 45%. With the government’s updated advice on returning to work, levels of homeworking will likely remain high.
- Significant changes to working processes to keep at a safe distance, particularly in high-risk industries such as manufacturing, construction and engineering.
- Staff furloughs and redundancies, which may reduce headcount but place strains on other employees’ workloads.
- First aiders may have been made redundant/furloughed, working different shift patterns, shielding or self-isolating, which may mean that adequate cover is not available at all times.
These changes may impact on your workplace and workforce, changing the hazards and risks you had previously planned for. You should continue to consider the following areas as part of your first aid needs assessment (see s.3.10 of the HSE’s Guidance):
- The level of hazards (and whether special hazards exist).
- The number of employees
- Employees with pre-existing illnesses
- Working arrangements
- Provision for non-employees
You may also want to consider if additional equipment or protective equipment is needed to keep people safe when responding to a first aid emergency. And arguably, with the rapidly-changing nature of work, you should revisit your first aid needs more often than before.
New (or heightened) first aid need assessment considerations
While the HSE’s Guidance requires you to look thoroughly at a number of different areas, there are some particular areas you should pay extra attention to in light of COVID-19.
We discuss some ways that COVID-19 may have changed your first aid needs here: Do employers need to review their first aid provision in light of the COVID-19 outbreak?
Below we focus on how to ensure you’re meeting those needs.
Are your first aiders still competent to act?
Face-to-face first aid training was put on hold for a period of time and online training wasn't necessarily appropriate for all training e.g. practical skills, such as CPR require face-to-face training to allow learners the opportunity to practice the techniques.
Even with training centres reopening, class sizes may have had to reduce, limiting access to courses. There’s also potentially a backlog of bookings or limited availability on courses while those that missed training earlier in the year try to update.
You may find your first aiders’ certificates have expired or will do before they can requalify. Fortunately, the HSE has recognised the challenges faced by employers and has allowed extensions. Certificates that expired after 16 March 2020 may remain valid until 31 October 2020 or 6 months from the data of expiry, whichever is later.
All requalification training for these certificates should be completed by 31 March 2021. However, this isn’t a sweeping rule and you must be able to show that requalification training wasn’t possible before expiry and that you meet the criteria outlined by the HSE.
Even if your first aiders’ certificates are still valid, the HSE has issued fresh guidance on how first aiders should assist during the pandemic to minimise the risk of infection. You should discuss the risk assessment with them and check that they are confident in how to provide the right assistance during this time.
Are your first aiders still able and willing to act?
When you are selecting your first aiders, you should be considering whether they could respond rapidly and immediately to an emergency and whether they can cope with the stress and physical demands of the role (s.55 of the HSE’s Guidance).
Staggered shifts, distancing measures and working-from-home policies may mean your first aiders are unable to respond as quickly as usual. Some first aiders may be in a vulnerable category, or have loved ones that are - or simply be too afraid of the dangers of transmission making them unwilling to continue as a first aider. You should ask your first aiders if there are any factors such as these that need to be taken into account as part of your risk assessment.
Have you got enough in-house resources to meet your needs?
With less staff in the office and some first aiders potentially unwilling or unable to act, you may find that you have too few first aiders to meet your first aid needs. Sharing your first aid provisions with other organisations may mean that you are able to ensure a quicker response in an emergency but you will need to ensure that you don’t compromise your own cover by doing so.
Are you keeping remote workers safe?
Many employers now have a greater number of employees working remotely and alone. Working from home is deemed low-risk by the HSE and inspecting every employees’ workstation is likely to be disproportionate for temporary measures but you still need to consider their needs (s.10). You may want to consider:
- issuing them with a personal first aid kit
- checking they have access to a phone to call for help in the event of an emergency
- if any additional training or equipment is needed
(see s.21 of the HSE’s Guidance)
It’s clear that first aid needs assessments have become more challenging during COVID-19 and employers will have to revisit it more often than usual to keep pace with changes to operations and their workforce.
Times are already stressful enough, so we’ve put together a quick manual that simplifies all the steps you need to take to ensure you meet your legal needs: The Complete Guide to First Aid at Work.
Topics: First Aid