This page covers first aid requirements in non-healthcare settings during the pandemic. It includes information on first aid cover and qualifications.
First aid in non-healthcare settings
This guidance will help employers ensure first aiders are confident that they can help someone injured or ill at work during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Employers and their first aiders should read the guidance on giving cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) from the Resuscitation Council UK.
Emergency service professionals, such as NHS ambulance workers, will receive advice from their employer about this.
HSE has guidance on First aid cover and qualifications.
Check your first aid needs assessment
As an employer, when reviewing your risk assessment to include working during the pandemic, consider refreshing your first aid at work needs assessment.
Ask your first aiders if there are any factors that should be taken into account as part of your risk assessment. These factors could include vulnerable workers with first aid responsibilities.
You should discuss the risk assessment with your first aiders so they are confident about providing the right assistance.
This includes knowing what equipment they can use to minimise risk of infection transmission, as explained below.
Guidance for first aiders
Although the UK Government has now removed social distancing in most workplace situations, first aiders should still consider the precautions set out in this guidance to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection.
Try to assist at a safe distance from the casualty as much as you can. Minimise the time you share a breathing zone.
Although treating the casualty properly should be your first concern, you can tell them to do things for you if they are capable.
Remember the 3P model – preserve life, prevent worsening, promote recovery.
Preserve life: CPR
Call 999 immediately – tell the call handler if the patient has any COVID-19 symptoms.
Ask for help. If a portable defibrillator is available, ask for it.
Before starting CPR, use a cloth or towel to cover the patient's mouth and nose. This should minimise the risk of transmission while still permitting breathing to restart following successful resuscitation.
If available, you should use:
- a fluid-repellent surgical mask
- disposable gloves
- eye protection
- apron or other suitable covering
Only deliver CPR by chest compressions and use a defibrillator (if available) – don't do rescue breaths.
For CPR in paediatric settings see guidance from the Resuscitation Council UK.
Prevent worsening, promote recovery: all other injuries or illnesses
If you suspect a serious illness or injury, call 999 immediately – tell the call handler if the patient has any COVID-19 symptoms.
If you’re giving first aid to someone, you should use the recommended equipment listed above if it is available.
You should minimise the time you share a breathing zone with the casualty and direct them to do things for you where possible.
After delivering any first aid
Make sure you discard disposable items safely and clean reusable ones thoroughly.
Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitiser as soon as possible.
First aid cover and qualifications during the pandemic
If first aid cover for your business is reduced because of COVID-19 or you can't get the first aid training you need, there are some things you can do to comply with the law.
Operate with reduced 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 first aiders with another business but make sure they have the knowledge, experience and availability to cover the first aid needs of your own 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.
Temporary omission of rescue breaths from training during high transmission rates
The Resuscitation Council UK (RCUK) has stated that they are supportive of training providers who may wish to omit practical teaching and assessment of rescue breaths in first aid training while COVID-19 transmission rates are high.
RCUK are leaders in the field of CPR. HSE support their position on this for most First Aid at Work (FAW) and Emergency First Aid at Work (EFAW) training courses.
This is a precautionary measure. Providers who are satisfied that they can safely deliver practical teaching and assessment of rescue breaths may continue to do so.
Rescue breaths should continue to be demonstrated practically and assessed in training courses for Paediatric First Aid training (PFA) or front-line emergency services.
Practical demonstration should also continue if the first aider is - for example - a lifeguard who may be expected to treat someone who is drowning.
If an FAW or EFAW training or requalification course does not include practical teaching of rescue breaths, employers should make sure that that the training includes:
- a practical demonstration by the trainer themselves and/or a video demonstration of rescue breath techniques
- full training in the theory of giving rescue breaths
- assurance from the training provider that the student is competent to give rescue breaths
HSE always strongly recommends that workplace first aiders undertake annual refresher training. If first aid training or requalification during the COVID-19 pandemic has not included practical training and assessment for giving rescue breaths, employers should make sure it’s included in the next refresher course.
This guidance will be reviewed as transmission and infection rates improve.
Annual refresher training
If first aiders are unable to get annual face-to-face refresher training during the pandemic, we support the use of online refresher training to keep skills up to date.
We still strongly recommend that the practical elements of FAW, EFAW and requalification courses are delivered face to face. This means that the competency of the student can be properly assessed.
Interrupted first aid training
If you couldn’t complete your first aid training because of the pandemic, it can restart later as long as:
- there is a full recap of the training delivered before the pandemic prior to moving onto undelivered modules
- the training provider is content that you can show:
- a full understanding of all aspects of the course content
- the knowledge and competencies required at the end of the training
We review and update this page regularly to reflect any changes in guidance.
Page last reviewed: 31 August 2021
Next review due: 31 October 2021