Which First Aid Kit Do I Need?

Which First Aid Kit Do I Need?

Estimated reading time: 189 minutes

We’re always being asked about first aid kits & what people should have in them. Whether it’s for personal use, for vehicle or motorcycle use, shop floor, school or outdoor use, the possibilities of what you might choose to have in them is seemingly endless.

Crepe bandages, ambulance dressings, HSE dressings, plasters, finger stalls, shears, tweezers, neck collars, spine boards or stretchers? What about just having a fully equipped ambulance on standby?

And don’t forget the triangular bandages!

If you spend a couple of minutes browsing the internet, you’ll either be confused about what you should buy, or excited/scared about what you could buy. But what exactly do you need? In this blog post we aim to answer just that.

What do you really need?

If I was a salesman I’d tell you that you need to have our new super-fancy first aid kit that’s been designed exactly for your industry & that it’s only available at this price for the next 5 minutes. I’d tell you that you needed at least one per room and probably one per random quantity of people as well.

However the correct answer is devilishly simple; you know your business/activity best, so what do you think you might need?

Yes, there is official guidance on the contents of first aid kits in the form of British Standards (jump to section). Yes there are a myriad of different pre-made kits out there, just waiting for your purchasing department to order for you. But really what you need is something that will deal with whatever incidents you think that you might have to deal with. And be pragmatic about it. If you work with kids, what sort of injuries are they likely to have? If you work with chainsaws, what are you likely to have to deal with?

Yes, the Health and Safety at Work Act states that you have to do what is reasonably practicable, but that doesn’t mean that you have to spend every penny that you have. Merely that you need to do what is reasonable. If it’s reasonable to foresee a certain injury, then spend the cash now & get the appropriate first aid materials and training to deal with that injury.

Basically, analyse your business/activity, thinking about who could be harmed and by what and how likely is that it might happen. Refer back to your accident records books to get a trend for injuries. What you’re doing is undertaking a first aid needs assessment, and this will guide you in developing your own bespoke first aid materials shopping list. When you’ve done that, either build your own kit, or buy the nearest available version, adding the extras that you think that you need if required. Simple

British Standards Guidance

Back in 2011 the British Standards Institute issued standard guidance on what should & should not be included within a workplace first aid kit. The guidance was only ever meant to be a best practice recommendation, as all businesses were (& still are) required, under Health and Safety legislation, to undertake a “needs assessment” to determine exactly what they should have in their own, bespoke first aid kit.

Read more about undertaking your first aid needs assessment here.

Naturally, most businesses chose to follow the British Standard and purchased typical first aid kits for their size & type of workplace. This meant that manufacturers had free reign to create “BS8599 compliant” first aid kits for this, that and the other leading to vast amounts of confusion. Then, just 4 years later, a working group was tasked to reassess the contents of the BS 8599-1:2011 workplace first aid kit, to see whether changes to the recommendations should be made.

Thankfully, workplaces haven’t changed that much since 2011. However, the overall threat to life and limb from terrorist activities certainly has. Because of this the working group reacted to this by creating a specific first aid kit to deal with these incidents.

In recent years the Health and Safety Executive have changed the syllabus of workplace first aid courses to include training candidates in the use of tourniquets & haemostatic dressings. This has come about as a result of the increased knowledge relating to the initial medical treatments required for major trauma victims, such as those caught in terrorist blasts & shootings. Sadly, as ever, major developments in medical knowledge are spurred ahead by the need to deal with those caught up in conflict and war zones.

We now have the new British Standard BS 8599-1:2019, which came into effect on 31st January 2019 & relates to the specification of first aid kits for use in the workplace. The existing British Standards (BS 8599-1:2011) weren’t withdrawn until 31st December 2019, as this allowed an overlap period for manufacturers & vendors to sell off their 2011 compliant first aid kits.

First Aid Equipment
A typical first aid kit box (white cross on a green background)

First Aid Kits (after January 2019)

The 2019 Standard introduced new first aid kits and renamed others & made a few changes to the contents of each. We now have these as possible options;

BS8599:1-2019 is applicable to static workplaces, such as offices, shops, factories, schools, etc. The part of the Standards that deals with workplace vehicles (buses, taxi’s, etc) hasn’t changed, so you simply need to follow the original BS 8599:2-2014 for those.

Now let’s go through each of these so that we can see what should be included in each of those kits.

Personal Issue First Aid Kit

The personal issue first aid kit is to be issued to first aiders, should their employers assess that it would be prudent or necessary in light of their job role (e.g. security personnel, cleaners, maintenance personnel).

  • Guidance leaflet – 1
  • Contents label – 1
  • Large sterile dressing (18 x 18cm) – 1
  • Triangular bandage – 1
  • Sterile adhesive dressing – 10
  • Alcohol free moist wipes – 4
  • Nitrile disposable gloves – 2 pairs
  • Resuscitation face shield – 1
  • Foil blanket – 1
  • Shears – 1

Small First Aid Kit

This is the typical workplace first aid kit for small offices, small shops, hairdressers, etc.

  • Guidance leaflet – 1
  • Contents List – 1
  • Medium sterile dressing – 2
  • Large sterile dressing – 2
  • Triangular bandage – 2
  • Eye pad sterile dressing – 2
  • Sterile adhesive dressing – 40
  • Alcohol free moist wipes – 20
  • Adhesive Tape roll – 1
  • Nitrile disposable gloves – 6 pairs
  • Finger sterile dressing – 2
  • Resuscitation face shield – 1
  • Foil blanket – 1
  • Burns dressing – 1
  • Shears – 1
  • Conforming bandage – 1

Medium First Aid Kit

Got a few more people working with you? You’ll need a bigger first aid kit.

  • Guidance leaflet – 1
  • Contents List – 1
  • Medium sterile dressing – 4
  • Large sterile dressing – 3
  • Triangular bandage – 3
  • Eye pad sterile dressing – 3
  • Sterile adhesive dressing – 60
  • Alcohol free moist wipes – 30
  • Adhesive Tape roll – 2
  • Nitrile disposable gloves – 9 pairs)
  • Finger sterile dressing – 3
  • Resuscitation face shield – 1
  • Foil blanket – 2
  • Burns dressing – 2
  • Shears – 1
  • Conforming bandage – 2

Large First Aid Kit

If you have lots of employees, or lots of visitors, or you work in a high risk workplace with only a few employees, you’ll need a large first aid kit. Check the “So what should I buy” section below as well.

  • Guidance leaflet – 1
  • Contents List – 1
  • Medium sterile dressing – 6
  • Large sterile dressing – 4
  • Triangular bandage – 4
  • Eye pad sterile dressing – 4
  • Sterile adhesive dressing – 100
  • Alcohol free moist wipes – 40
  • Adhesive Tape roll – 3
  • Nitrile disposable gloves – 12 pairs
  • Finger sterile dressing – 4
  • Resuscitation face shield – 2
  • Foil blanket – 3
  • Burns dressing – 2
  • Shears – 1
  • Conforming bandage – 2

Travel & Motoring First Aid Kit

The old travel first aid kit has been replaced with the new travel & motoring kit. It’s been specifically created to match the medium sized BS8599-2 compliant Vehicle and Motoring First Aid Kit.

  • Guidance leaflet – 1
  • Contents List – 1
  • Medium sterile dressing – 1
  • Triangular bandage – 1
  • Sterile adhesive dressing – 10
  • Alcohol free moist wipes – 10
  • Nitrile disposable gloves – 2 pairs
  • Resuscitation face shield – 1
  • Foil blanket – 1
  • Burns dressing – 2
  • Shears – 1
  • Adhesive dressing (7.5 x 7.5cm) – 1
  • Trauma dressing – medium (10 x 18 cm) – 1

Read more about vehicle based first aid kits here

Critical Injury First Aid Kit

Perhaps the most distressing, but sensible addition to the Standard is that of the new critical injury first aid kit. This, the Standard suggests, is typically for use by those who “work with dangerous machinery or sharp instruments, cutting equipment, power tools, construction, agriculture, forestry, etc.”

The guidance goes on to suggest that; “Appropriate numbers of this pack should be stored, in line with the risks assessed. Employers should take into consideration the maximum number of people on site at any one time.” “In addition, following a risk assessment, an employer might consider storing appropriate quantities of critical injury packs to be equipped to deal with injuries to employees or the public resulting from acts of terrorism or other mass casualty incidents.

As far as I can remember, this is the first time terrorism and mass casualty incidents have been mentioned before in regular (non-specialist) first aid guidance issued in the UK. From having spoken to manufacturers of these types of critical injury packs, I can confirm that there are hundreds, if not thousands of them already distributed around the UK at places where large numbers of people gather.

  • Guidance leaflet – 1
  • Contents List – 1
  • Nitrile disposable gloves – 2 pairs
  • Foil blanket – 1
  • Burns dressing – 0
  • Trauma dressing – medium (10 x 18 cm) – 1
  • Trauma dressing – large (15 x 18 cm) – 2
  • Haemostatic dressing – 2
  • Tourniquet – 1

Having the kit is one thing; knowing how to use it is another. If you’re considering investing in Critical Injury First Aid Kits, you’d be well advised to attend our Critical Injury Responder Course, where you’ll learn how to use the contents of the kit and so much more.

You’ll learn about the types of injury you might find & how to treat them using the contents of a Critical Injury First Aid Kit. The 6 hour course is delivered in such a way as to bolster your first aid knowledge. You won’t be bombarded by technical jargon; just simple, clear and concise information. We include plenty of practice time to make sure that your hands remember what to do should you be faced with a critical injury, because your memory will take a few seconds to catch up.

Traumafix Military Field Dressing - When you've a major bleed to deal with, and a traditional ambulance dressing just isn't going to cut it, you need a military field dressing and this is the best that we've found.
The “Traumafix” Trauma Dressing – a very-stretchy elasticated pressure bandage allowing direct pressure to be applied quickly and maintained easily.

Helpfully, the Standard also provides some definitions as to all the elements of the new kits. While some are pretty obvious, others need some clarification.

  • Trauma Dressing (Large): “A pressure bandage measuring a minimum of 15cm x 400cm (stretched length) and conforming to BS 7505:1995 (specification for the elastic properties of flat, non- adhesive, extensible fabric bandages) type 3B with a wound pressure pad not less than 15cm x 18cm of at least 500g/m2, with a low adherent wound contact surface.”
  • Trauma Dressing (Medium): “A pressure bandage measuring a minimum of 10cm x 400cm (stretched length) and conforming to BS 7505:1995 (specification for the elastic properties of flat, non- adhesive, extensible fabric bandages) type 3B with a wound pressure pad not less than 10cm x 18cm of at least 500g/m2, with a low adherent wound contact surface.”
  • Haemostatic Dressing: “A medical device for use on severe wounds to significantly shorten bleeding times through the accelerated promotion of clotting. Can be presented as a roll, sheet, ribbon, gauze, foam, powder, wool, or as part of another dressing.”
  • Tourniquet: An emergency haemorrhage control device, applied to a limb, with a mechanism to control the application and release of pressure, utilising a windlass, pneumatic compression or form of mechanical advantage to fully occlude blood flow and stop catastrophic blood loss.”

Attend our Critical Injury Responder course to learn how to use the contents of the new Critical Injury First Aid kits. (click for more details).

So what should I buy?

Before we go any further, it would be good to remind ourselves of exactly what the Standards recommend in terms of workplaces and quantities of first aid kits, so here it is;

Category of HazardNumber of people on siteQuantity & size of first aid kit
Low HazardFewer than 25Qty 1 small kit
(e.g. shops, offices, libraries, etc) 25-100Qty 1 medium kit
More than 100Qty 1 large kit per 100 employees
High HazardFewer than 5Qty 1 small kit
(e.g. light engineering & assembly work, food processing, warehousing, etc)5-25Qty 1 medium kit
More than 25Qty 1 large kit per 25 employees

Appendix A of the Standard also states that “where there are special circumstances, such as remoteness from emergency medical services, shift work or sites with several separate buildings, the quantity of first aid kits should be increased as appropriate.”

Our thoughts.

At the end of the day, whatever you have will be better than nothing. That said, the Law requires you to be proactive, so you need to have something rather than nothing. The Law also states that you need to assess what you think you need to deal with as this will guide you in your selection of a first aid kit.

Ultimately what you choose to have is down to you. There is no right or wrong answer. But if something does go wrong & the HSE get involved, one of the first things that they will ask is to see your first aid kit. If your kit wasn’t remotely suitable for the foreseeable hazards & risks, they they have every right to come down on you like the proverbial “tonne of bricks”.

Remember: a hazard is the “thing”, while the risk is the likelihood of the thing injuring someone. A pet tiger is a hazard. Having fed the tiger and locked it in a room away from us reduces the risk. if the tiger hasn’t been fed this week and is roaming around, the risk is somewhat higher!

Which First Aid Kit Do I Need?

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