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The importance of first aid in the workplace

first-aid-bandaidAlthough all jurisdictions in Canada require workplaces to provide a first aid kit, first-aid attendant and training, many small to medium-sized businesses are still not complying with the law. Employers need to remember that many potential situations or medical emergencies can occur in the workplace that have the potential to cause injuries and fatalities.

However, even with all of our efforts to work safely, medical emergencies, accidents and injuries do occur.

When a medical emergency or injury does take place, whether it is to ourselves or a fellow employee, knowing what to do and being able to react quickly can limit the severity of the health scare or injury… or even prevent a death. First aid provides the initial and immediate attention to a person suffering an injury or illness. In extreme cases, a quick first aid response could mean the difference between life and death.

In general, the challenge of receiving first aid training is to have the confidence and skills that can help deal with emergencies, prevent further injury and save lives. It doesn’t matter whether the injury or illness is caused by the work the employee does or not, it is important to give them immediate attention and call an ambulance in serious cases.

Workplace safety regulations and standards for first aid vary by province or territory and depend on several factors such as the size of company and the industry sector, among others. As stated above, at a minimum, a first aid kit and trained first-aid attendant are required under Occupational Health and Safety/Workers’ Compensation legislation and/or regulations in every jurisdiction in Canada so that your employees can receive immediate help if they are injured or taken ill at work.

Details of the legal requirements in Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador are provided in the following charts: Ontario, Western provinces, and Atlantic provinces.

The minimum first-aid provision on any worksite is:

  • A suitably stocked first-aid box
  • A first-aid attendant to take charge of first aid
  • Information for employees about first-aid rules and arrangements

There is a mandatory list of items to put in a first-aid box; however, it is recommended that you don’t keep tablets and medicines in the first-aid box. It is important to remember that accidents and illness can happen at any time. First aid needs to be available at all times people are at work.

Make sure your first-aid provision accounts for the type of injuries and illness that might occur in your workplace. Monitor accidents and ill health and review your first-aid provision as appropriate.

Don’t forget to consider common medical conditions that could occur in any workplace, such as asthma, epilepsy, heart attack or hypoglycaemia (in a person with diabetes). If you have any employees with disabilities or special needs, then their requirements for first aid will need to be taken into account.

First aid must be easily accessible by employees and preferably available within minutes. In a very large workplace, or one spanning multiple floors, first aid may need to be available in more than one area.

A first-aid attendant is someone who has undertaken training and has the qualification (first-aid certificate) to give first aid. First-aid training is provided by several national organizations including the Red Cross and St. John Ambulance. They can also be issued by other organizations approved by the Workers’ Compensation Board of a specific province or territory. To help keep their basic skills up to date, first aid attendants are required to undertake annual refresher training.

It is the job of the trained first-aider to provide initial treatment to injured or ill employees consistent with first-aider’s level of training and competence. Where an individual requires treatment beyond a first-aider’s level of competence, the first-aider should recommend that the injured or ill person seek medical assistance or should seek medical assistance on behalf of the injured person. For example, a local medical clinic may be the preferred medical provider for a workplace.

You have to inform your employees of the first-aid rules and regulations and workplace arrangements. Putting up notices telling staff who and where the first aid attendants are and where the first-aid box is will usually be enough. However, certain jurisdictions require that a prescribed poster and first-aid attendant certificate be posted in a conspicuous place in the workplace. You will need to make special arrangements to give first-aid information to employees with reading or language difficulties.

Do you have employees who travel a lot, work remotely or work alone? You should consider issuing personal first-aid kits and issuing personal communicators/mobile phones to such employees.

Do any of your employees work shifts or outside of regular hours? You should ensure there is adequate first-aid provision at all times people are at work.

If first aid is required and given, the first aid attendant must report and record what was done. First-aid report form should be filled out by the trained first-aider. These generally include information on:

  • Date, name, time
  • Description of symptoms
  • The treatment provided
  • Any referral arrangements (e.g., ambulance, hospital, medical service)

Forms should be located at, or close to, first-aid stations. The original copy of the first-aid record should be retained in a secure location within the workplace. If a person is transferred to a hospital or medical service, a copy of the first-aid record should accompany them. Employees should be given a copy of their first-aid record, and must have access to it on request.

Personal information about the health of an employee is confidential. Employers must keep this in mind when developing a recording and reporting system for first aid.

In summary, the first aid plan should state:

  • The number of first-aid attendants needed to cover all areas and shifts, including names and contact details
  • Specific training requirements for first-aid attendants
  • Specific requirements and management for first-aid box and first-aid room (if required)
  • Emergency and other response procedures
  • First-aid recording and reporting system
  • Important contact numbers (e.g., 911, local police, Poisons Information Centre, local hospitals/clinics, Ministry of Labour, WCB, etc.)

Managers and supervisors must be familiar with first-aid arrangements and must understand their accountabilities under the first-aid plan. They will also play an important part in making sure first-aid information is provided to all employees.

In addition, build in a periodic review of all of your first-aid arrangements, involving the people who have accountabilities under your first-aid plan. Organize a mock first-aid emergency to check that your first-aid plan works. Check that kits and first-aid rooms are accessible. If an incident requiring first aid does occur, evaluate the effectiveness of the first aid provided, and make changes to your first-aid plan if necessary.

Without going into details, we at First Reference Inc. recently found out how important first-aid training as well as CPR training is to a workplace. And we are grateful that we had complied with the law.

Yosie Saint-Cyr
First Reference Inc. Human Resources and Compliance Managing Editor

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Yosie Saint-Cyr

Managing Editor at First Reference Inc.
Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B., is a trained lawyer called to the Quebec bar in 1988 and is still a member in good standing. She practiced business, employment and labour law until 1999. For over 15 years, Yosie has been the Managing Editor of the following publications, Human Resources Advisor, Human Resources PolicyPro, HRinfodesk and Accessibility Standards PolicyPro from First Reference. Yosie is one of Canada’s best known and most respected HR authors, with an extensive background in employment and labour across the country. Read more
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5 thoughts on “The importance of first aid in the workplace
  • In any workplace small accident always happen than their is need first aid kit, first-aid attendant and training to the worker that how they help in these situation

  • Thanks for sharing such information with us……!

  • Joe Woodgate says:

    Thanks for the reply. I was hoping to find some documentation that lists this legislation.

  • If you have been trained and designated by your employer as the first aid attendant in your workplace as specified under the law, yes you would be required to provide first aid if a situation presents itself.

    If you do not want to fufill your obligation, you need to inform your employer and your employer will need to find a replacement who will undergo training and be designated as the First Aid attendant of the workplace.

  • Joe Woodgate says:


    Can you tell me if an employee who has been trained in 1st Aid as part of their employment has a legal obligation to perform first aid?