We will have to get used to a different way of doing first aid in a world with Coronavirus (COVID-19). Claudia Calder provides advice on carrying out first aid in the ‘new normal’.

As we start returning to work with guidance from the Government about physical distancing and good hygiene, we need to consider how do our first aiders provide treatment in the workplace.

This guidance can be used as part of your Prevent strategy, under the Prepare, Inform, Prevent, Recovery approach to returning to work. Read more about it the approach at the link.

The symptoms of COVID-19 include fever and/or persistent cough, with some people developing severe pneumonia causing breathing difficulties.

The spread of SARS-CoV-2 is most likely to happen when there is close contact with an infected person and the risk increases the longer someone has close contact with them.

There are two routes that people could become infected:

  • Directly transferred secretions into the mouths or noses of people who are nearby (within 2m) or possibly via inhalation into the lungs (e.g. droplets from coughing or sneezing)
  • Through direct contact from touching a person, a surface, or an object that has been contaminated with respiratory secretions and then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes

There are two effective preventative measures:

  • Practice physical distancing (>2m)
  • Good hygiene practices – hand washing (or sanitising)


We never know when someone will need first aid in the workplace, however, we need to plan for it happening, and now in a COVID-19 world we need to include preventing infection as part of those plans.

The most important advice to give employees remains to stay at home, self-isolate and seek medical advice if they show symptoms of COVID-19.

This will significantly reduce the chance that someone on-site is infectious.

Additional planning considerations

  • Everyone is appropriately first-aid trained
  • First aiders to have their own first aid kit
  • First aid kits are fully stocked, within date and extra gloves available
  • First aiders to have access to sanitising equipment and/or site welfare facilities

Providing First Aid

Where possible, try and get the casualty to administrate self-aid with your support.

It’s important for you to remain aware of the risks to yourself and others during this time.

In the event that somebody needs emergency first aid at work, go through the normal triage process and call the emergency services if necessary.

1. Keeping yourself safe

  • Wash your hands before and after treating a casualty
  • Ensure you do not sneeze or cough over the casualty when you are treating them
  • Wear gloves or cover hands when dealing with open wounds
  • Cover cuts and grazes on your hands with waterproof dressing
  • Dispose of all waste safely – in a hazardous waste bin, if available, or double bag and put in ‘normal/black bag’ waste or use sanitary bins (found in female toilets)

2. Give early treatment

The vast majority of incidents do not involve you getting close to the casualty, where you could come into contact with respiratory secretions. Sensible precautions will ensure you are able to treat a casualty effectively.

3. Information

Information about COVID-19 is being continually updated by the government and the NHS, keep yourself informed and updated.

4. Remember your own needs

Make sure you take time to talk about your fears and concerns with someone you trust and to take out time to look after yourself.

What to do if you are required to provide CPR

Because of the heightened awareness of the possibility that the victim may have COVID-19, Resuscitation Council UK offers this advice:

  • Recognise cardiac arrest by looking for the absence of signs of life and the absence of normal breathing. Do not listen or feel for breathing by placing your ear and cheek close to the patient’s mouth. If you are in any doubt about confirming cardiac arrest, the default position is to start chest compressions until help arrives
  • Make sure an ambulance is on its way. If COVID 19 is suspected, tell them when you call 999
  • If there is a perceived risk of infection, rescuers should place a cloth/towel over the victims mouth and nose and attempt compression-only CPR and early defibrillation until the ambulance (or advanced care team) arrives. Put hands together in the middle of the chest and push hard and fast, 1/3 of their chest size and a rate of 100 per minute
  • Early use of a defibrillator significantly increases the person’s chances of survival and does not increase risk of infection
  • If the rescuer has access to personal protective equipment (PPE) (e.g. FFP3 face mask, disposable gloves, eye protection), these should be worn.
  • After performing compression-only CPR, all rescuers should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water; alcohol-based hand gel is a convenient alternative.

This video provides a great visual aid for the explanation above.

They should also seek advice from the NHS 111 coronavirus advice service or medical adviser.

Need help managing your return to work strategy? Our consultants are here to provide expert advice and support during this difficult time. Find out more here.

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Showing 4 comments
  • Lindsay McKillop

    Does the school first aider have to wear face shield if so who provides them?

    Have all councils been updated as to the changes in this COVID-19 World as to First Aid at Work and changes to practice?

    If this is available where am I likely to see a copy?

    Sorry, we go back to work in 3 weeks personally I had 12 weeks off due to underlying medical conditions.
    I want to be up on the changes to my first aid practice.

    • Claudia Calder

      Hi Linsday,

      Depending on the nature of injury, would depend on whether a face shield is necessary, for common first aid injuries, such as cuts, burns and sprains, the first aider at a distance can advise the patient on administering their own first aid, for example, with hot burn injuries, asking the patient to put their hand (normally hot burn incident) under cold water, and the first aider would not need a face shield as this advice can be done at a 2m distance.

      Your first aid needs risk assessment will need to be reviewed, and this will determine who is providing equipment.

      The HSE advises employers and their first aiders take into account specific guidance by the resuscitation council UK.
      With regards to your underlying medical conditions, the HSE states: Ask your first aiders if there are any factors that should be taken into account as part of your risk assessment, for example vulnerable workers with first aid responsibilities. This should be part of your employer’s first aid risk assessment review.

      Additional comment from our internal first aid trainer: Where possible the injured person does self-help and if you need to get close to the casualty then you wear a face covering and get the casualty to turn their head to one side, away from you. Gloves and face shields need to be added to the risk assessment with face masks added to the first aid box.

      Kind regards,

  • Nina

    Hi, What happens if we have reduced staff on-site and can’t always cover with trained first aiders? The HSE doesn’t provide clear guidance on how to deal with this. Can we use an Appointed Person to call for help if we can’t cover? We are in an office environment.
    Kind regards, Nina

    • Claudia Calder

      Hi Nina,

      The HSE states the following:

      First aid cover and qualifications during the outbreak

      If first aid cover for your business is reduced because of coronavirus or you can’t get the first aid training you need, there are some things you can do so that you still comply with the law.

      You should review your first aid needs assessment and decide if you can still provide the cover needed for the workers that are present and the activities that they are doing.

      Keep enough first aid cover

      If fewer people are coming into your workplace it may still be safe to operate with reduced first aid cover. You could also stop higher-risk activities.
      Share first aid cover with another business

      You could share the first aiders of another business, but be sure that they have the knowledge, experience and availability to cover the first aid needs of your business.

      Shared first aiders must:

      be aware of the type of injuries or illnesses that you identified in your first aid needs assessment and have the training and skills to address them
      know enough about your work environment and its first aid facilities
      be able to get to the workplace in good time if needed

      Whoever provides the temporary cover must make sure they do not adversely affect their own first aid cover.

      I hope this helps,
      Claudia Calder

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