Please note that this information does not qualify you as an official first aider, and Virtual College advise calling 999 in the first instance at the scene of an emergency.
This material and any associated assessments do not constitute a qualification or accreditation as an official first aider. All content provided is for general information only.
Virtual College advocate dialling the emergency services before attempting any form of first aid.
When it comes to delivering effective first aid, it’s important that you treat the injury correctly - not all are the same, and therefore not all treatments are appropriate. Wounds can vary hugely, and while the main aim of controlling bleeding and reducing the chance of infection are generally the same, there are other things to be aware of, depending whether you’re dealing with a cut, bruise, graze or anything else. In this article, we’re going to go through the various types of wound that you might encounter, particularly in the workplace, and how you can treat them at the scene.
Cuts or lacerations are generally the most common injury to occur in any workplace; they can happen in everything from warehouses to offices, and are often the result of misusing a sharp object such as a kitchen knife, or a box cutting blade. While they can vary hugely in their severity, the main aims when giving first aid for cuts are still the same.
The first step will be to control the bleeding - not doing this can potentially cause further problems. Bleeding can be stopped by applying pressure with an absorbent dressing of some sort. Good first aid kits containing a dressing should be found in any place of work, but if this is not available, then you can use a towel or kitchen roll. If the cut is on the hand or arms, then raise that limb above the head to slow the blood flow; conversely, if the cut is on the feet or legs, lie down and raise the limb above your body.
Once the bleeding has stopped, you should clean and dress the cut to stop it from becoming infected. You can do this by cleaning it under running tap water, and then patting the wound dry with a clean towel or cloth. Use a sterile plaster or other type of dressing to cover the cut. Minor cuts will close within a day or two, at which point the plaster can be removed. Different types of cuts located in different places will vary in healing time.
Puncture wounds are often caused by things like standing on a nail, or even animal bites. They aren’t generally as common as things like cuts, but can still happen on construction sites, on process lines or stock warehouses. Punctures can be fairly similar to cuts, but they are usually much deeper, which has the effect of making them more likely to become infected, as foreign matter or bacteria can be forced further under the skin. As a result, puncture wounds need to be thoroughly cleaned and irrigated in order to reduce the chance of infection. Further treatment might be required if the wound does become infected, which commonly involves taking antibiotics. Have the person see a doctor or visit a minor injuries unit if you think that there is a particular risk of infection. Otherwise, treatment is the same as it is with a cut.
Grazes are one of the most minor injuries that you’re likely to encounter, and they are when only the top few layers of skin are scraped off as a result of friction with an object. They commonly occur on the knees when a person falls, but can also happen when picking up rough objects such as building materials. Grazes often sting considerably, but are usually only superficial. If there is any bleeding, it should be stopped, and then the wound should be rinsed, cleaned, and a dressing applied as with a cut. Grazes usually scab over and heal very quickly without the need for any further treatment due to the fact that they are not deep.
As with grazes, bruising (also known as contusion) is not generally a cause for concern. They are caused when impact with an object causes the capillaries to burst and bleed slightly underneath the skin. This type of closed wound creates the darkened skin effect, and might happen for instance when a person hits their head on a low door frame, or bashes their leg against furniture. Small bruises can be left and will disappear within a couple of days. More severe bruising can be alleviated by holding a cold compress to the area, which will slow the bleeding.
It’s important to be aware of more serious wounds such as crush wounds that may look like bruises. If the accident involved crushing a body part, and you are not sure if there may be further internal damage, then you should seek additional medical help.
In some cases, the wound might need additional attention from a medical professional, though not necessarily urgently. If any of the following apply to the wound, you should take the person to a walk-in centre or their GP as infection could be an issue:
You should take the person to your nearest accident and emergency department, or immediately call 999 if any of the following symptoms occur as part of one of the previously mentioned wounds:
The Virtual College Primary Survey course may be particularly helpful for dealing with first aid situations that involve more significant wounds. Click here to find out more about what it covers, or visit our health and safety course page for further resources.