A first-aid kit sits in a strange place in most people’s minds. On the one hand, we know on a logical level that they’re important. On the other hand, serious injuries are so rare that we often forget how important a good first-aid kit is.
To paraphrase the Boy Scouts, it never hurts to be prepared. Read on for a breakdown on first-aid kit essentials so you aren’t caught blindsided should you or someone you care about get hurt.
What Is the Goal of a First-Aid Kit?
As our title suggests, the aim of this article is to discuss everything that needs to be considered when choosing your first-aid kit. One of the most important and basic things you should first consider is what the goal of your kit is.
The answer many people come to is something along the lines of “A kit full of the materials needed to treat any injuries I encounter.” However, that answer has some issues.
Consider that some injuries are far too complicated to fix without a hospital. Others are so rare that there may not be much point to your kit having the required materials to treat them.
If that sounds callous, remember that a first-aid kit is often portable, and even first-aid cabinets and stations are limited in size. This is not to mention materials aren’t free; every item you want in your kit has a cost.
The goal of a first-aid kit is to treat injuries you are likely to encounter and, if the injury is serious, to slow a person’s deterioration so they can survive getting to a place able to deliver more robust medical care.
The Basics Any Kit Should Have
While it is difficult to give a “golden” answer to what should be in a first-aid kit, since they vary so much in size and portability, there are still commonalities almost any kit should have.
A good home first-aid kit should at least have the following:
- Adhesive tape
- Anesthetic spray or lotion
- 4″ x 4″ sterile gauze pads
- 2″, 3″, and 4″ Ace bandages
- Adhesive bandages (all sizes)
- Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
- Exam gloves
- Polysporin antibiotic cream
- Nonadhesive pads (Telfa)
- Pocket mask for CPR
- Resealable oven bag
- Safety pins (large and small)
- Triangular bandage
- List of emergency contacts and critical emergency responder numbers
- Emergency aid guidebook
This may not prepare you for every possible emergency that can come your way, but it covers the basics.
Remember to watch out for expiration dates and to keep track of what is and isn’t sterile. For instance, medical scissors and tweezers often come in sealed bags, ensuring they’re sterile on first use.
After that, they might still be usable but not for anything that requires sterile tools. Tweezers especially have a habit of getting dirty enough even after only one or two uses that they might become an infection risk.
Knowing What to Prepare For
A big part of ensuring your first-aid kit can serve you well is understanding what types of medical emergencies you can expect to face.
A good starting point is this list of common workplace injuries, which includes the following:
- Sprains, strains, and tears
- Soreness and pain
- Bruises and contusions
- Cuts, lacerations, and punctures
- Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS)
- Chemical burns and corrosion
Some of these injuries are going to be far more commonplace than others. For instance, a factory or chemical plant has to worry about chemical exposure far more than an office.
Whether you intend for a kit to be at home, in your car, or in a workplace, research what sort of injuries are common in the situations the kit is going to be in.
While it is easy to get caught up on serious injuries, remember not to ignore smaller issues too. For instance, first-aid kits for camping trips should have hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion for bug bites.
If you’re unsure whether to consider a type of injury likely enough to worry about, play it safe. It’s better to have medical supplies you may not need than need them and not have them.
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is the administrator and coordinator of the U.S. private sector voluntary standardization system.
Among other things, ANSI works with experts and standard development organizations (in this case the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA)) to set many of the standards meant to keep us safe.
For a first-aid kit to be called ANSI-compliant (which would really be more accurately called ISEA-compliant but that term is far less common), it must meet one of two baselines.
The first and more common baseline of first-aid kits is the Class A designation. A Class A kit is “intended to provide a basic range of products to deal with most common types of injuries encountered in the workplace.”
A kit that cannot meet this standard should be avoided. It means it lacks basic essentials and therefore may even do some harm in that nearby people think essential medical supplies for first-aid are closer than they are.
Less common are Class B Kits, a higher standard designed for more populated, complex, and/or high-risk work environments. Of note, these kits contain a splint and tourniquet, as well as more of the same supplies A kits have.
If you’re interested in the various options for kits, visit this page. There you will find a variety of Class A first-aid cabinets and stations, as well as links to Class B kits if you need something more robust.
That same site also allows you to purchase medical supplies if you want to build your own kit, supplement one you already have, or need to replace anything.
How Portable Do You Need Your Kit?
Getting access to kits is not always a convenient process. Take, for instance, getting injured in the woods. In that scenario, you may not be able to hike all the way back to a mounted unit.
That said, portable kits are smaller and more easily damaged. If your kit breaks open, it could ruin essential supplies. Moisture also has the potential to do the same, if you’re not careful.
Due to the variety of use cases for first-aid kits, they come in a variety of portability categories. These include the following:
Type 1 First-Aid Kits
These kits are meant to be mounted in a fixed position upon a wall. The intention is they remain stationary and indoors, as they tend not to be designed for heavy wear and tear.
Its type 1 kits that tend to be the biggest, and thus able to hold the most supplies, as portability is not a concern.
Type 2 First-Aid Kits
This is a very common type of first-aid kit, designed to be portable but only for indoor use. In essence, you can move the kit but it should not be handled too roughly or exposed to the elements.
If you have seen a small, handheld kit that did not look waterproof, it was likely a Type 2 first-aid kit.
Type 3 First-Aid Kits
These kits are designed for a relatively high amount of portability, suited for portable use in mobile, indoor, and/or outdoor settings. You can mount it but it is not necessary to do so.
Type 3 kits are designed to have a water-resistant seal, helping to prevent moisture from destroying or otherwise contaminating the contents. That said, their contents are also at more risk due to their intended use cases.
Type 4 First-Aid Kits
Type 4 first-aid kits are designed to be the most portable of all the categories ANSI has set. They must meet pretty specific corrosion, moisture, and impact resistance guidelines to qualify as Type 4.
These kits are often only really necessary for emergency responders and people who are highly mobile but still need access to a first-aid kit. If you need a kit that can last through rain or a bumpy ride, this is your best option.
Even with the high standard they are held to, remember that Type 4 kits are not perfect. The more high-intensity use that your kit sees, the more you need to check it on occasion for issues.
Take Your First-Aid Kit Choice Seriously
It is easy to assume you will never have to deal with a serious injury. However, the truth is that we are surrounded by dangers both hidden and obvious. Your kitchen alone has dozens of serious hazards that can and do hurt people.
It doesn’t hurt to be prepared and have a quality first-aid kit nearby. It does hurt to need a kit but not have one.
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