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Coronavirus (COVID-19), Social Distancing and First Aid

A Best Evidence Review – 7th April 2020

With each passing day, the UK population is having to adapt to changes in their lifestyle and working patterns which two weeks ago would have seemed implausible.  Families are sitting round dining tables balancing the demands of homeschooling and entertaining children, while trying to maintain their incomes amidst a global healthcare and economic crisis.
 
As government policy becomes increasingly stringent, recommendations on social distancing have been consistent from the outset. Hospitality and leisure businesses have undoubtedly been the hardest hit, but the effects are now clearly being felt in every sector. Millions of service industry workers, supported with modern IT infrastructures and cloud-based data systems, are quickly having to come to terms with the new realities of working from home. This rapid paradigm shift, combined with the implications of the Coronavirus Bill, poses interesting and complex challenges about the role of first aid at home in relation to managing the increased burden on the NHS, lowering the transmission rate of the virus for an extended period, and correspondingly, adjusting practices within the workplace health and safety regulatory system.
 
Data published by the NHS, shows that in the financial year 2018-19, there were 24.8 million Accident and Emergency attendances throughout the UK. Even with NHS contingency planning, this is a number that public servants and healthcare professionals need to see reduced if they are to stand a chance of managing anything close to the levels of confirmed COVID-19 critical care patients currently being seen in Southern Europe. Public Health Profiles in England indicate that of all Accident and Emergency attendances, approximately 20% are patients under the age of 18, with intentional or unintentional injuries in the home being a significant driver for these statistics.

With UK schools closing their gates on March 20th, it could be presumed that increased time spent in the home may have a directly proportionate impact on the number of children requiring similar treatment.  Enabling guardians and parents in this current climate to effectively treat minor injuries in the home and reduce the need for emergency care, could potentially have a positive effect of lessening the burden the NHS will face over the coming weeks and months.
 

 
 

 
The increased requirement for safeguarding the welfare of children is only part of the puzzle. While the Coronavirus Bill introduced many new powers to influence policies surrounding mental health and employment rights, there is barely any impact on the Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations Act 1981. Clearly, an employer still has a legal obligation to provide adequate and appropriate equipment to ensure their employees can receive immediate attention if they are injured or taken ill at work during the current crisis. These rights are extended not only to workers in centralised offices, but also to those working from home.

The Health and Safety Executive offer the following guidance:

 
As an employer, you have the same health and safety responsibilities for home workers as for any other workers.
When someone is working from home, permanently or temporarily, as an employer you should consider:

  • How will you keep in touch with them?
  • What work activity will they be doing (and for how long)?
  • Can it be done safely?
  • Do you need to put control measures in place to protect them?
 
Source: https://www.hse.gov.uk/toolbox/workers/home.htm
 
 
It is advisable to carry out a risk assessment for home workers and ensure that any space being used for working is suitable in terms of ventilation, lighting, and temperature. Assessing the workspace should also include removing trip hazards such as trailing leads. It is very likely in the current situation that most people coming to terms with their new working practices will be conducting low-risk, desk-based work in their home. In this case, no additional first aid equipment is required beyond normal domestic needs. The NHS make several recommendations for the types of items a basic first aid kit should contain. These include but are not limited to:

  • Plasters in a variety of shapes and sizes
  • Small, medium, and large sterile dressings
  • Sterile eye dressings
  • Triangular bandages
  • Rolled bandages
  • Disposable gloves
  • Scissors
  • Tapes or safety pins
 
Source: https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/accidents-first-aid-and-treatments/what-should-i-keep-in-my-first-aid-kit/
 
As we continue to see a sharp increase in confirmed cases, it is vital that we all follow national guidance on hand washing and self-isolation to help restrict the transmission of COVID-19. The social implications of this global crisis will be profound.  In the short-term though, businesses must not lose sight of their health and safety obligations to provide for the welfare of their employees. Increasing the public’s confidence and ability to effectively treat minor injuries in the home will not only boost the effectiveness of social distancing, it may well have a long-lasting benefit on society in general.