Why is first aid at work important?

Written by James Reed
Jan 10, 2020

James is a Training Product Manager at Red Cross Training responsible for the development and review of our training products.

After a cardiac arrest, every minute without CPR and defibrillation reduces the chance of survival by up to 10%. An alarming fact. First aid at work is important not just for life or death situations but for a wide range of reasons - for both employees and employers.

The UK may have one of the best health and safety records in the world but sadly 147 deaths and 581,000 non-fatal injuries still occur at work each year. And 150,000 employees sustain injuries that result in absence from work for more than three days.

It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking, “It won’t happen to us” and underestimate the importance of first aid in the workplace. Yet doing so doesn't just leave employees at risk - your business can face legal actions, reputation damage and productivity loss.

In this blog we'll look at the benefits for employees and employers of keeping up- to-speed with first aid at work.  But first, we’ll cover what your duties as an employer are. 


What are your legal duties for first aid in the workplace?

The Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations (1981) govern first aid obligations, but the provisions are vague. Regulation 3 simply states that equipment, facilities and first aid personnel must be ‘adequate and appropriate in the circumstances’.

The HSE’s “First aid at work” Guidance on the Regulations (“The Guidelines”) can help you determine the level of first aid provision required, including: what your first-aid box should contain, whether you’re required to provide a first-aid room  and to what extent your first-aid personnel should be qualified.

Some organisations only need to provide an appointed person. Yet any organisation with 50+ employees will need to ensure that there are an adequate number of First Aid at Work (FAW) qualified staff. (One per 100 employees in low-hazard workplaces and one per 50 in higher hazard workplaces - see Annex 3.)

Yet the guidelines are just that: merely guidelines. The onus is on you, as the employer, to determine the level required following a needs assessment (see Section 4). There are four ‘standard’ levels of first-aid personnel provision:

  • An Appointed Person (AP) 
    This is the minimum requirement, where someone is appointed to take charge of first-aid arrangements, including looking after the equipment and facilities and calling the emergency services when required.
  • Emergency First Aid at Work (EFAW)
    This one-day course covers common injuries and illnesses that may arise in the workplace.
  • First Aid at Work (FAW)
    This three day course teaches the skills to recognise and treat a wider range of injuries and medical conditions.
  • Additional training
    Some workplaces have specific risks which require bespoke or more detailed training.

However, you can choose alternative training so long as it fits your requirements. 

Want to learn everything there is to know about first aid at work? Download our free eBook 'Complete guide to first aid at work' >


What are the benefits to employees of first aid at work?

Preventing deaths

A study commissioned by British Red Cross and carried out by The University of Manchester found that  59% of work-related deaths could have been prevented with first aid training.

There are many instances where a fast response could be the difference between life and death, such as:

  • Choking
  • Severe allergic reaction
  • Poisoning
  • Cardiac arrest


Reducing the severity of injuries

Even for non-fatal injuries, the severity and recovery period can be  reduced by administering first-aid.


Saving a life is a priceless feeling

“My grandad, grandma and entire family are so grateful to me for saving his life and I am so grateful to the British Red Cross. I have never been more grateful for anything in my life…Had I not attended the course, Grandad would not be here with us today and I would be without my best friend and my role model.”

Gemma, whose quick actions prevented her granddad’s heart attack becoming fatal

(Read more about Gemma’s story here.)


There’s also an added benefit for the first-aiders. It can provide a sense of security and pride in knowing that they can save the lives of colleagues, loved ones, members of the public or even their own life. (And many who attend our refresher first aid course report a sense of community with their fellow first-aiders at work.)


What are the benefits of first aid in the workplace for employers?

Aside from keeping your workers safe being the right thing to do, there are many other benefits of keeping within the law.

Avoiding HSE investigations and prosecutions

HSE statistics - Why is first aid at work importantSource: HSE statistics

Under RIDDOR, the HSE investigates any reported work-related deaths,  accidents that result in serious ‘specified injuries’ or leave a worker incapacitated for seven days or more,  diagnosed cases of industrial disease and incidents with the potential to cause harm (‘dangerous occurrences’).”. If they uncover any breaches of legislation they can prosecute, which can result in fines or even imprisonment.

Since the new Sentencing Guidelines came into force on 1st February 2016, companies can no longer get away with ‘near misses’. Instead Courts assess their culpability and the degree of probable risk (instead of what harm actually occurred) - as well as their ability to pay fines.

As a result, the level of fines and the number of prosecutions have increased dramatically. And in the year after the new guidelines came into force, personal prosecutions against directors trebled (see SHP Online).


Reducing reputational damage

‘“Pete Hargreaves and Steve Chant said the primary causes for the firm’s insolvency included “adverse publicity in the marketplace as a consequence of the death and the resulting criminal and HSE investigation”’

See: “Directors blame Ikon’s collapse on bad publicity from HSE death investigation”

IOSH Magazine

In the event that the HSE does investigate your company, the adverse publicity can have far-reaching effects. The HSE’s website and weekly newsletter ‘names and shames’ those who've been convicted or received an enforcement notice. A goldmine source for journalists, indeed!


Reduced productivity loss

An employee on a salary of 60k generally produces 40k of revenue for the company (more in highly-skilled role).

See: Oxford Economics  (2014) The cost of brain drain

It can be easy to underestimate the impact of absence, but the cost to businesses can soon add up - from the increasing burden on team members and decreased staff moral, to lost productivity.

In fact, an Oxford Economics Study found a 60:40 correlation between wages and productivity. For every pound of Gross Value Added, 60p accounts for wages and the remaining 40p accounts for revenue.

So every day of absence doesn't just cost your businesses in lost wages, it costs an additional two thirds of that wage in lost revenue.

With prompt first aid assistance, recovery periods can be reduced - meaning employees can return to work sooner.

As can be seen, staying compliant with your first aid at work obligations doesn’t just help save lives and prevent unnecessary suffering. It also has a number of benefits to businesses that shouldn’t be ignored.

Discover everything you need to know to keep your workplace first-aid compliant with our definitive yet simple eBook: The Complete Guide to First Aid Training at Work.

guide to first aid at work

Topics: First Aid

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