What Should Be in a First Aid Kit at Work: Essential Items for Workplace Safety

Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of employees in the workplace is a paramount responsibility for employers. In keeping with this, it's critical to have a well-stocked first aid kit at work, tailored to the specific needs and risks associated with the work environment. A comprehensive first aid kit serves as the first line of defence in the event of minor injuries or accidents, facilitating immediate response that can prevent complications and promote faster recovery.

The contents of a first aid kit should be selected after conducting a thorough first aid needs assessment. This involves considering the types of hazards present, the nature of the work conducted, and the number of employees in the workplace. For typical low-risk environments, a basic set of items might include plasters and dressings for minor cuts and abrasions, as well as support bandages for strains or sprains.

However, more hazardous workplaces, such as industrial sites or construction areas, may require additional and more specialised first aid supplies. It's also imperative to ensure that at least a few staff members are trained in first aid to effectively use the contents of the kit. Regular checks and restocking are necessary to maintain the kit's readiness, as even the most comprehensive first aid kit is ineffective if it's incomplete or its contents are out of date.

Legal Requirements for Workplace First Aid Kits

In the UK, employers are legally required to ensure that first aid equipment is accessible in the workplace. This is mandated by the Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981. The specifics of what should be included are determined by a first aid needs assessment, which considers factors like the number of employees, the nature of the work, and the workplace environment.

Under these regulations, every workplace must have:

  • A suitably stocked first aid kit
  • An appointed person to take charge of first-aid arrangements
  • Information for employees about first-aid arrangements

It's crucial for employers to note that the contents of the first aid kit may vary depending on the outcome of their first aid needs assessment. For standardised guidelines, the British Standard BS 8599 serves as a benchmark for the contents of workplace first aid kits. Compliance with this standard, while not legally obligatory, ensures that the first aid kit meets a certain level of preparedness for injuries and illnesses.

Regarding specifics, the kit should include, at a minimum:

  • A leaflet with general first aid information
  • Sterile plasters in assorted sizes
  • Sterile eye pads
  • Triangular bandages
  • Safety pins
  • Large and medium-sized sterile, unmedicated wound dressings
  • Disposable gloves

Health and safety legislation does not prescribe exact quantities, but all items must be present in sufficient amounts relative to the workplace size and associated risks. Employers should frequently review the contents of the first aid kit, replacing used or out-of-date materials to ensure constant readiness.

Essentials of a Basic First Aid Kit

The contents of a first aid kit should be comprehensive enough to manage a range of common workplace injuries, from minor cuts to more severe wounds. Ensuring your kit is well-stocked with the right supplies is paramount for effective first aid intervention.

Sterile Plasters and Dressings

A selection of sterile plasters in assorted sizes is crucial to cover various wound types. The kit should include individually wrapped sterile gauze dressings for larger injuries, as well as sterile eye dressings to protect any eye injuries until professional care can be sought.

Bandages and Supports

Bandages serve multiple purposes, such as applying pressure to bleeding wounds or supporting a limb injury. The kit should contain several triangular bandages, useful for improvising slings, crêpe rolled bandages for sprains and strains, and tubular bandages with safety pins for finger injuries.

Initial Wound Care

Every first aid kit must have supplies for the initial cleaning and care of wounds. This includes alcohol-free cleansing wipes to clean the skin around the wound and antiseptic cream to prevent infection. Providing adequate wound care at the initial stage is essential to promote healing and prevent further complications.

Tools and Instruments

Essential tools include a pair of scissors for cutting dressings to size and tweezers for splinter or debris removal. Also ensure the presence of adhesive tape to secure dressings or bandages and an assortment of safety pins to fasten bandages safely.

Specialised Equipment

In addition to basic supplies, a first aid kit might contain specialised equipment such as sterile eye pads for eye injuries, disposable sterile gloves to maintain hygiene, and potentially life-saving devices such as a CPR face shield or a defibrillator for cardiac emergencies. Always include a leaflet or information card with instructions on the use of these items.

If the first aid kit is intended for a company car or mobile workforce, consider the inclusion of a car safety kit with additional items suited to automotive emergencies.

Additional Supplies for Specific Needs

Every workplace first aid kit should be tailored to address specific risks and needs. The following are additional items one might consider including to ensure a well-prepared response to various emergency situations.


In addition to basic first aid items, medications are crucial for addressing specific ailments. Work first aid kits may include over-the-counter painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen to relieve minor aches and pains. It's important to regularly check the expiry date of all medications and replace them as recommended by the manufacturer. Antihistamine tablets or creams can be crucial for allergy reactions, while calendula cream may soothe minor burns and skin irritations.

Protection and Hygiene

Maintaining hygiene during first aid is vital. Include a supply of both disposable gloves and disposable sterile gloves to prevent contamination. Non-sterile items such as disposable gloves should be used during general first aid tasks to keep both the first aider and casualty protected. Additionally, provision for eye wash or distilled water can be crucial when rinsing foreign substances from the eyes.

Refreshments and Comfort

In some emergency scenarios, keeping a person calm and comfortable is as important as addressing their physical needs. Items like foil blankets can help maintain body temperature. Storing some distilled water can be handy for both cleaning wounds and keeping someone hydrated while awaiting further assistance. It's also useful to have some refreshments, such as glucose tablets, to aid those feeling faint or dizzy after an incident.

Maintenance and Upkeep of First Aid Kits

Maintaining a first aid kit is crucial for ensuring its effectiveness in an emergency. Regular checks and updates help guarantee that supplies are usable and adequate to meet the assessed needs of the workplace.

Checking Expiry Dates

Every item within the first aid kit, particularly sterile items, has an expiry date stipulated by the manufacturer. It is necessary to:

  • Check the expiry dates monthly.
  • Discard items that are past their expiry date.
  • Replace expired items promptly to maintain a fully stocked and effective kit.

Replenishing Supplies

After any use of the first aid kit, one must:

  • Inventory the kit to identify used or missing items.
  • Replenish first aid supplies to conform to the British Standard (BS) 8599 requirements.
  • Ensure that there are always a sufficient quantity of supplies, including a defibrillator, if necessary, based on the workplace risk assessment.

Reviewing First Aid Equipment

Trained staff should:

  • Conduct regular reviews of the first aid equipment to ensure all items meet current health and safety standards.
  • Consider any changes in the workplace environment or operations that might necessitate different or additional equipment.
  • Update the first aid kit as-needed to adapt to new risks or recommendations following the risk assessment.

Considerations for Special Environments

When tailoring first aid kits for special environments, it is important to consider the unique hazards and accessibility to emergency services in each setting. This ensures compliance with the Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981 and the wellbeing of individuals who might encounter emergencies.

Vehicles and Transportation

In vehicles, a first aid kit should be compact and securely fastened to allow quick access during transit. It's vital to include items such as bandages and a thermometer, as well as considering the potential for motion-related injuries and quick deterioration in moving vehicles.

Remote and High-Risk Areas

Remote and high-risk areas require a comprehensive approach to first aid that considers the extended response time of emergency services. Kits should contain advanced items like calendula cream for burns and a more extensive array of supplies to manage insect bites and stings. Conducting a risk assessment to identify potential hazards unique to the environment is key.

Home and Self-Employed

For homes and self-employed individuals, the responsibility of performing a first aid needs assessment falls to the individual. A basic first aid kit should be complemented with additional items such as medications and emergency contact numbers, ensuring first aid arrangements are sufficient for the self-reliant nature of their work setting.

First Aid for Children

Children's first aid kits at workplaces should reflect their specific needs. Items should include child-size dressing and plasters, and it's crucial to have items on hand to deal with common injuries in these areas.

Action in an Emergency

In the event of an emergency, immediate and accurate response is necessary. Workplaces should have clear first aid arrangements, including a first aid room, if feasible, and staff should be trained to recognise when a situation begins to deteriorate and how to contact emergency services quickly.

Training and Information

Employers are responsible for ensuring that their workplaces have adequate first aid provisions. One critical component often overlooked is the training and information necessary to use first aid kits effectively.

First aid kits should always include a leaflet or some form of printed information that provides basic guidance on first aid procedures. This is helpful for all staff, as it offers immediate advice in the event of an emergency when a trained first aider might not be readily available.

It's crucial that each workplace has a sufficient number of trained staff who can confidently handle a range of emergency situations. These employees—often referred to as 'appointed persons'—should receive formal training accredited by a recognised body such as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Training must be comprehensive, covering the correct use of the list of first aid kit contents, as well as basic life support techniques.

Here is a quick breakdown of what one might expect a trained first aider to know:

  • Recognising an emergency and assessing the situation
  • Knowing what to do if someone is unresponsive and not breathing
  • Understanding the principles of CPR and defibrillation
  • Managing minor injuries using items found in the first aid kit
  • Controlling bleeding and treating shock
  • Supporting a casualty with possible spinal or head injuries

Employers and employees both benefit from regular first aid training sessions. Re-certification is typically required every three years, but it is good practice to hold refresher courses more frequently to keep everyone's knowledge current and to review procedures, especially when new potential risks are identified in the workplace.

Effective training ensures not only the presence of a first aid kit but also a workforce prepared to use it correctly, potentially saving lives and mitigating the severity of workplace accidents.

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