A Strong Case For First Aid In The Workplace
Education and Advocacy Twenty seconds is a fraction of time — a few ticks of the clock’s hand — and yet it was precisely those seconds that irrevocably changed the lives of Marc R. Côté and Esther Laforte.
It was July 30, 2013, three weeks after an unattended freight train carrying crude oil in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, derailed, caught fire and exploded, killing 47 people and wiping out half the downtown area.
After a day’s work, Laforte, Canadian Red Cross disaster response lead in Lac-Mégantic, and Côté, a 25-year veteran instructor and retired paramedic, were chatting over dinner in the makeshift cafeteria set up for disaster responders in the town’s sports centre. Laforte began to choke.
“I saw the distress in her eyes when she realized she couldn’t breathe,” recalled Côté in a Canadian Red Cross blog about the incident. “Her hands immediately went to her throat to communicate that something was blocking her airway, and she reached out towards me.”
But Côté wasn’t crippled with panic, he was trained for this. His mind quickly ran through the process.
"I saw the distress in her eyes when she realized she couldn’t breathe."
“In my head I saw the play-by-play of what would happen if the basic choking response procedure were to fail,” he remembers. “I would call 911, get the first aid equipment and the automated external defibrillator (AED) that was by the stairs, ask someone to wait for the ambulance outside, move the tables to create a pathway for the paramedics and stretcher, and begin the choking response procedure for someone who is unconscious.”
It didn’t come to this. Within seconds he had used two techniques from his first aid training, abdominal thrusts and back blows between her shoulder blades, in order to clear Laforte’s airway. Côté saved his colleague’s life.
Making the case
On paper, the incident between Côté and Laforte seems to play out methodically. But ask any of the 40 percent of Canadians polled by the Canadian Red Cross who say they have been in an emergency situation where they needed to perform first aid, and you’re likely to hear a few panic-stricken tales.
The truth is, while 90 percent of those surveyed say they could recognize choking, only 67 percent are confident they could help. With heart attacks or cardiac emergencies, 73 percent of Canadians say they can recognize the emergency but only 47 percent are confident they can administer the necessary first aid.
The numbers slide further when you look at concussions, anaphylactic shock or heat emergencies.
Yet emergencies continue to occur in the workplace.
In 2013, there were 241,933 incidents of injuries or disease in Canada, which led to time off from work according to the Associations of Workers’ Compensations Boards of Canada. That’s only 4,000 less than the previous year.
"Fortunately all Canadian provinces and territories have requirements for workplaces to have people trained in First Aid, CPR and to have access to First Aid kits."
In the workplace
Although not all of these injuries can be avoided, employers are recognizing the need to offer first aid training to employees.
According to the survey, of those who have been trained, 53 percent of Canadians say employers supplied the course or arranged for the training. Companies are even starting to bundle first aid training into employee benefit packages, paying up front or reimbursing their staff for the cost of training.
In many cases, having first aid training is just as important to workplace culture as including a fitness allowance in the benefit program or designating a fire marshal for emergency situations, and it’s mandatory.
Canadian first aid requirements
Fortunately all Canadian provinces and territories have requirements for workplaces to have people trained in First Aid, CPR and to have access to First Aid kits.
We all hope for the best, that nothing will happen, that our skills won’t be necessary. But just ask Côté and Laforte, all it takes is 20 seconds to change your life.