Occupational Health & Safety

What is First Aid? What is First Aid Training?

First aid is tough to administer for real. Get your team used to doing it and having fun doing it, which will take some of the stress out of having to do it for real.

When I was knee-high to a grasshopper (I won't tell you what year), I took a first aid course with the American Red Cross. In those days, Red Cross was the only game in town when it came to first aid training. Once I took that course, I was hooked and soon took a first aid instructor's course.

When I taught these lecture courses, they all started out the same way: The students had to learn the definition of what is first aid.

"First Aid is the immediate and temporary care given to a person who is injured or suddenly taken ill until the services of a physician can be obtained."
-- American Red Cross "Green Book"

Let's fast forward to the 21st century. Lecture presentations are gone. The Red Cross is not the only game in town. I did a Google search, and it produced 4,460,000 results on the term "first aid training." What's a person to do?

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) became prevalent in the "life-saving" arena and now that we have automated external defibrillators (AEDs), these skills became closely aligned with first aid training. We now have the American Red Cross, the American Heart Association, Medic First Aid, the National Safety Council, and many other companies offering these courses. Some training uses a classroom with DVDs, and others are on the Internet with nothing but a phone number to use if you have a question.

What's a person to do?

If you are going to set up training for your employees, you need to know their learning style. This is not the article that will talk about the three most common styles of learning (visual, auditory, and kinesthetic), because you can find information on your own about that. What you need to know is, will your employees respond to sitting, watching a DVD, listening to an instructor, and then trying to do what was seen on the screen? Do your employees need to read everything, or do they need see it done and then to practice doing it?

First Aid/CPR/AED training now is highly automated, but what do your employees learn? Most people learn by doing, so let's get them doing skills in class ... and out of it, as well.

Blood and Wounds
One of the biggest problems new first aiders have is what they will do and how they will react if they see blood. If not conditioned during the training, many people will freeze during an emergency incident. Therefore, you need some exercises to help them get conditioned to react at the sight of blood and wounds.

The easiest thing to do is to buy some fake blood (which is easy around Halloween time, but we're coming into the spring of the year). The second-best method is to make it yourself. Use some red food coloring, water, corn syrup, and, believe it or not, cocoa powder. (It darkens the mixture to make it look like real blood.) You can do an Internet search to get some video instructions or check out these two sites:

For fake wounds, you need to be a little more creative. A mixture of baking flour, water, petroleum jelly, and some food colors to give the necessary darkness to the flesh tone can do it; you also can buy some mortician's wax. It comes in a variety of shades, is moldable, holds its shape, and is designed to stick to skin. If you need more, here's another web address that might help: http://chemistry.about.com/cs/howtos/ht/fakewounds.htm.

Or you can purchase everything you need in commercially prepared "moulage kits." Do a search on that term, and you'll find many offerings.

Broken Bones
If you've never seen a broken-bone injury, you have two types -- open fracture and closed fracture. The open fracture, as its name implies, is where the bone's end sticks out of the wound. You have a lot of bleeding and the broken bone end showing. Closed fractures do not have the open wound; the area of the break could be deformed or just swollen and possibly discolored from bruising.

Take your fake wound material and put on several layers to build up a swollen area. Take a chicken or turkey bone and break it so you get a jagged edge. Have it come out of the wound material at an angle. Liberally apply some of the fake blood. The "injured victim" should not be able to move the limb easily; he is in pain and maybe unconscious.

Don't forget to dress your victim in old clothing so that if the blood stains, it's no big deal.

Resuscitation
There was a design a number of years ago for making your own CPR manikin by using a large balloon, a gallon bottle, and a book. But it's not worth it. Manikins are very inexpensive. Buy them and get lots of extra lung bags.

You can purchase just the head and lungs or a full-body manikin. If you have a full-body manikin, you can also use it to simulate other injuries.

Practice
If you are responsible for the first aid team in your workplace, you need to get them to practice, practice, and practice some more. Once your team has taken their initial training, they will start to forget what they’ve learned without extra practice.

My first aid team would have monthly drills as well as unannounced drills. The PA system would indicate that the first aid team was needed in room 106. When they got there, they would see a victim or two on the floor with an overturned chair and ladder nearby. One victim would be moaning and the other unconscious, with a leg and an arm bent underneath them. The team needs to react and react quickly.

I also called the police/ambulance dispatcher to tell them we were running a drill so that if someone didn't realize it was a drill and called 911, they wouldn't dispatch until I called and told them it was over or it was a real incident.

If you have a hazmat team, get them to practice with the first aid team. Simulate a situation like the one just above and have some non-hazardous materials such as flour or salt spilling out of a container. Some water with a few drops of household ammonia or vinegar can simulate a chemical spill. The odor gives the team a sense of urgency.

What I've provided here are just some ideas for the visual injuries. Be creative and work on other types of injuries, such as slings, splinting, and moving victims. Ensure that all movements are done safely and everyone is lifting properly. If possible, use a manikin until your team gets to be working as a cohesive team.

First aid is tough to administer for real. Get your team used to doing it and having fun doing it, which will take some of the stress out of having to do it for real.

Good Samaritan Laws
Not being a lawyer and not having played one on TV, I can only provide some generalizations on this subject. Everyone who has ever taken a First Aid/CPR/AED course has asked the question, "Can I be sued for giving aid to someone?" The answer is, "Yes. Anyone can sue anyone else for almost any reason." That's how crazy our legal system is. However, to protect you and me, most all states have passed some sort of Good Samaritan Law.

In essence, these laws say if a trained person provides treatment to the best of his or her ability and with no thought of wrongdoing, that person is protected from legal repercussions. In Canada, Federal law requires you to render aid. In the United States, each state is slightly different, from states that require you to call for assistance to states that protect you even if you are not trained. Other states protect medical personnel only. For a specific answer, check with your legal counsel.

This article originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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