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What went Hong: Preventive care


July 20, 2021
By James Hong

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First aid kits in the workplace are essential. Many people might not know what to do in a situation where more than a band-aid is necessary. It might surprise you to learn the level of complexity involved for why the kit is there, what dictates the contents and who is responsible for administering care for an injury. The short answer to all these questions is this: first aid in the workplace is legislated as a federal and provincial matter. Every detail is specified, from the size and number of bandages to the kit location and who is responsible for injury care. Additional to the kit itself, depending on the work environment and number of workers, a certified first aid attendant would be indicated.

So, let’s cover self-care precautions for first aid attendants and those providing initial injury and wound care, zeroing in on a couple of options that are not generally covered in standard first aid training, safety training or worker orientations. Workplace accidents, whether minor or major are a reality. Those providing care for incidents are exposed to an extra layer of susceptibility when considering personal contamination.

If your work activities have the potential for causing major or minor wounds, seriously consider getting a tetanus shot. Tetanus infection, commonly termed “lockjaw,” is caused by a bacterium called “Clostridium tetani.” Tetanus bacteria are everywhere in the environment, including soil, dust and manure. Stepping on nails, scratching yourself with work blades, scraping your hands on rough surfaces – all activities causing broken skin – potentially “allow tetanus-causing bacteria to enter the body.” An infection can interfere with your ability to breathe and, in the worst-case scenario, threaten life. 

Seek medical attention as soon as possible following a wound, even if not immediately. The tetanus incubation period is quite variable. Most cases occur within eight days, the incubation period can be as short as three days or as long as 21 days. If your tetanus vaccine has lapsed beyond the recommended 10-year interval, receiving a shot one week after an injury will likely not protect you. If you’ve never been vaccinated, a tetanus shot should be given up to 21 days following injury, for full protection.

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If you are a first aid attendant or attending minor and major injuries, you could be exposed to blood and bodily fluids. Hepatitis B is a liver infection – “a short-term illness or a long-term chronic infection leading to serious, even life-threatening health issues such as cirrhosis or liver cancer.” Exposure to blood or bodily fluids during the treatment of a bleeding wound has the unpredictable possibility of causing Hepatitis B infection. This is possible by blood making contact with broken skin. Many of you responsible for administering first aid at work are generally also working at the location. Working with tools and equipment on unfinished surfaces in less than hygienic environments is a perfect storm for causing wounds that can lead to direct contact infections. 

Always wear new, non-latex disposable medical gloves when treating minor or major wounds. Wear a face shield and medical disposable coveralls where appropriate. Most importantly, familiarize yourself with the proper steps for the removal and disposal of medical gloves to prevent self-contamination. And finally, speak to your doctor about your high-risk factor for exposure to qualify for a free Hepatitis B vaccine.

For those of you responsible for the first aid kit, keep an inventory sheet and restock frequently. Familiarize yourself with what’s required in your kit and read any associated instructions for care. Did you know the first thing to do in the case of a bleeding wound is to elevate the source of the bleeding? Did you know that a minor wound can turn into a major infection if a latex bandage is applied to someone who has a latex allergy? Did you know that how fast you treat an eye injury with eyewash can make the difference between burning sensations in the eye to a full-blown cornea scratch? Have a look at tutorials for wound care and practice on co-workers. Keep your first aid certificate in your wallet to remind you of when it expires. As they say in Scouts Canada, “Be prepared!”   


James Hong is chief of OHS for the construction industry.