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close this bookThe Organization of First Aid in the Workplace (ILO, 1999, 70 p.)
close this folder1. Why first aid and the organization of first aid?
View the document1.1. What is first aid?
View the document1.2. The need to prevent accidents
View the document1.3. If an accident occurs
View the document1.4. An organized approach to first aid

1.1. What is first aid?

The most common view holds that first aid is the immediate and temporary care given to a victim of an accident, before a physician or other qualified health personnel arrives to provide treatment. The best example of first aid in the light of this definition is the care provided to the victim of a traffic accident with the objective of saving the life of the injured person. This involves rapid and simple measures, such as clearing the air passageway or stopping severe bleeding which might otherwise lead to death. However, in occupational health practice, first aid covers more than the immediate aid to a person in a life-threatening situation. Although saving lives will always be its primary purpose, the broader view of first aid will be presented in this document, since it corresponds to the practice in many countries.

The first aid administered to the victim of a serious accident at work is no different from that administered to the victim of a serious traffic accident. First aid is the immediate and temporary care to the victim of an accident, with the aim of preventing or reducing an acute threat to the life or health of the victim. First aid in this case is the application of immediate measures on the accident site by a person who may not be a physician but is trained in first aid, has access to the necessary equipment and supplies, and knows what must be done to ensure that professional medical care will follow his or her intervention. The immediate availability of a physician or otherwise medically qualified person would of course be highly desirable in the case of a severe injury; in reality, however, there is usually little likelihood of this. Even where highly mobile emergency services have been established, their arrival on the scene of the accident may simply take too long to be able to cope with acute life-threatening situations.

When a severe accident happens, the first few minutes may be decisive for survival (see figure 1). For instance, where respiratory arrest follows an electric shock, there is still, after three minutes, a 75 per cent chance of complete recovery if artificial respiration is established. After four minutes, the chances are only 50 per cent, and after five minutes no more than 25 per cent.1 The sooner help is available, the greater the chance of complete recovery and the prevention of possible sequelae. Likewise, the sooner help is provided, the shorter the treatment. The chances of survival drop rapidly if immediate care is not administered after vital functions have been impaired, following an accident or sudden illness. First aid can prevent this from happening.

Figure 1. Relationship between the survival rate and the time elapsed until first aid after the arrest of vital functions or their severe impairment

Source: Klaus J. Gatz: Erste Hilfe im Betrieb, Hauptverband der gewerblichen Berufsgenossenschaften, Zentralstelle fallverhund Arbeitsmedizin (Cologne, Carl Heymanns Verlag KG, 1985).