First aid is something that many people won’t ever give much thought to, and yet it’s something that could save every one of our lives if the situation required it. Anyone can become a first aider if they undertake the appropriate training, which provides a basic introduction to life-saving care and actions for a range of emergency situations.
Not everyone with first aid training is a designated first aider; some people just take part in the courses to feel more prepared for emergencies or need to pass the training as part of their jobs. But designated first aiders have a range of responsibilities that are important to understand and uphold in order to keep everyone around them safe.
You might be considering becoming a designated first aider, or you may already hold the role and want to brush up on the responsibilities of a first aider at work. In this article, we cover a brief introduction to the role of a first aider and the principles of first aid, before sharing the main responsibilities of someone in this role.
A first aider is an individual that has been trained to give basic medical help and support to someone injured or unwell. They are not a qualified medical professional, but instead someone that has been given training and assessments to qualify them to safely provide first aid.
First aiders are often trained to respond to emergency medical situations that can happen at any time, such as someone choking, fainting, having a seizure or having an allergic reaction. They provide immediate medical care, often until a more experienced medical professional arrives to take over.
The majority of workplaces have a designated first aider that needs to be on-site to ensure that the business complies with health and safety regulations. This is due to guidance in The Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations from 1981, which state that employers must “provide adequate and appropriate equipment, facilities and personnel” to give employees immediate medical attention when needed, which in many cases includes a trained first aider.
The level of first aid training that this individual needs will depend on the level of risk present in the workplace; office first aiders only need to know the basics, whilst a construction site first aider may need more specific training.
Everyone can undertake first aid training if they wish, but you will need an official certificate to prove you have had first aid training if you want to become a first aider. This role comes with specific responsibilities, so it’s important to understand what will be required of you before deciding to take on the position.
The roles and responsibilities of a qualified first aider are linked to the overall aims of first aid. As a designated first aider, you should have a clear understanding of these aims so that you can act in accordance with your training and know what principles are driving your actions.
The first and most important of the principles of first aid is to preserve life. First aid training has saved lives countless times by providing a clear set of instructions to follow in the case of a medical emergency, and all first aid training focuses on keeping everyone involved in these situations safe and alive. This also ties into the first aider's responsibility to keep yourself safe first and preserve your own life before anyone else.
Another aim of first aid is to prevent deterioration. Many of the actions learned in a first aid course are designed to stabilise someone’s condition or prevent an immediate risk to life until more qualified medical help arrives, allowing the first aider to react immediately and stop the situation from escalating further and posing a greater risk to anyone involved’s health.
First aid also aims to promote recovery. Not all the scenarios covered in first aid are medical emergencies that require additional support, and applying basic first aid principles to situations such as cuts or scrapes, burns and fainting help to prevent any long-term damage and speed up the recovery process for the person affected.
The following responsibilities are taken from the list of first aider duties outlined by St John’s Ambulance, a key organisation in UK first aid education.
In an emergency situation, the first of the main responsibilities of a first aider is to assess the situation. They need to understand what has happened, who is affected and what might have caused the problem, all of which are vital in deciding what to do next.
This is also an important first aider responsibility because you may be asked what happened if other medical professionals arrive later to give further support. It can be difficult to fully assess a situation if you weren’t there when the accident happened, so try to just make a note of the facts and not jump to any conclusions about what may have gone on.
Another of the first aider responsibilities is to protect yourself first and then the person or people that have been injured. You should never put yourself at risk when administering first aid, which is why it’s important to assess situations for danger before going and trying to help.
This might seem strange when you consider that first aid aims to save lives, but this should never be done at the expense of another person’s safety. If a first aider failed to properly assess the safety of a situation then they might also end up hurt, leading to more people that have been injured and needing help.
Protecting yourself may also involve making the environment and the other people in it safe. You might decide that going and interacting with the injured person is too dangerous, but you can still stop other bystanders from getting hurt and make the area secure until further help arrives.
After, and only after ensuring that it won’t lead to further casualties, a first aider can then go and administer first aid.
Part of keeping yourself safe as a first aider also involves preventing infection. Many scenarios that require first aid have an increased risk of infection transmission, and as a first aider, it is your responsibility to act in a way that minimises this risk.
Before touching the injured or unwell person, try and wash your hands to avoid the transmission of germs. If hand washing isn’t possible, using alcohol hand gel is the next best thing and should be available in a first aid kit.
Many first aid kits also come with disposable latex gloves, which should also be worn where possible. This is especially important if someone involved has an open wound, or if there is any human waste or fluids in the area that may contaminate you or the unwell person.
First aiders are also responsible for following basic health and safety hygiene guidance and avoiding coughing or sneezing directly over an injured individual and especially near an open wound.
The majority of the care you administer to an injured or unwell person as a first aider will be physical, but you are also responsible for providing emotional support and reassurance as well. This starts by remaining calm and in control of your own emotions in each situation to avoid causing any further distress to anyone else involved.
Another of the first aider responsibilities is to try and keep the injured or unwell person calm whilst you administer first aid and/or wait for further help. This involves explaining the situation to them as best you can and providing reassurance that help is there or is coming.
It’s also important to be clear about what you’re doing so that the person feels in control of the situation and can communicate whether they want you to stop or avoid any actions.
As well as assessing the entire situation, a first aider is also responsible for assessing the injured or unwell person to decide what action needs to be taken. This is often done in tandem with assessing the environment, but you may need to get closer to the casualty and ask them questions to properly decide what to do next.
If you arrive at a situation with multiple casualties, first aiders need to assess which people are in the most need of help and attend to them first in order to save as many lives or prevent as much damage as possible.
After assessing the person or people that are injured, another of the most important first aider duties is to administer first aid. This might involve:
You should only administer first aid that you have been trained in how to do. If you are unsure, it’s always better to wait for assistance, as giving first aid incorrectly could cause further harm.
In many cases, the first aid that you administer will be enough to stabilise or solve a problem, and no further care will be needed. However, another of the roles and responsibilities of a qualified first aider is to know when to call the emergency services for additional help.
There are a range of scenarios where additional help is required, such as unconsciousness, a long seizure, choking or anaphylactic shock. In these instances, first aid will hopefully prevent the situation from escalating, but you need professional medical support to treat the affected individual.
The responsibilities of a paediatric first aider are the same as a regular first aider, but they specifically involve the care of babies and young children. They will likely be a designated first aider in a childcare setting, and will be responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of first aid kits, delivering first aid training to other staff, ensuring they are up to date with paediatric first aid training, and being the primary person to respond to situations when a child is unwell.
As a first aider, your priority is always to keep yourself safe first when carrying out emergency first aid. This might seem counterintuitive if you are trying to save someone’s life, but if you become injured then there will be two people requiring medical attention, so as a first aider you should never enter a situation where you are also at risk of harm.
As a first aider, your number one priority is to look after yourself before looking after the injured person. This involves checking the environment around an injured person before going to give them help, wearing PPE such as gloves, an apron or a mask, and choosing to wait until additional help arrives before going and administering first aid.
When many people think of first aiders they imagine CPR and emergency treatment, when in actual fact the majority of the role will be administering simple first aid to things like cuts and scrapes and filling in incident forms. However, in emergency situations, first aiders are responsible for acting quickly and saving lives, and understanding these responsibilities is key to knowing what to prioritise and how to act.
If you’re looking to become a first aider and are searching for a training provider, we offer a range of certified first aid courses, including our online ‘First Aid at Work Course: Primary Survey’ course which is ideal for workplace first aiders.