Today’s correspondent says:
I know you have written blog posts on this before but I’m hoping you can give me a definitive answer on this. I am volunteering at a yoga retreat in NSW and I have become the default OHS person due to my background in firefighting/ first aid etc.
A discussion came up around if we are allowed to have drugs in our first aid kits here (commonly available pharmaceutical medication such as Panadol, nurofen, antihistamines, gastro stop and other drugs, available at the supermarket. (Also epi pen and Ventolin.)
Are we allowed to have these drugs in our first aid kits in NSW if they are administered by a qualified first aider?
And is there potential liability to the business, volunteers or staff we if were to do so?
I have indeed written on this issue before – see https://emergencylaw.wordpress.com/page/2/?s=scheduled+drugs. In light of those earlier posts I’ll try to give this answer in fairly short dot points.
- As a general rule you can do anything you like unless there is a law that says you cannot.
- There is a law about drugs – see The last word on scheduled drugs? (September 29, 2019). As I said in that post ‘items listed in the poisons standard are restricted. The level and type of restriction varies with the schedule, but all of the drugs are restricted.’
- You cannot possess scheduled drugs (including an epi-pen or Ventolin) without an appropriate authority. What authorities there are vary from state to state.
- If the drugs are not scheduled, you can put them in your first aid kit. Paracetamol (the active ingredient in Panadol) is for example listed in Schedule 2 but not when it is
… in tablets or capsules each containing 500 mg or less of paracetamol as the only therapeutically active constituent (other than caffeine, phenylephrine and/or guaifenesin or when combined with effervescent agents) when:
(A) packed in blister or strip packaging or in a container with a child-resistant closure,
(B) in a primary pack containing not more than 20 tablets or capsules,
(C) compliant with the requirements of the Required Advisory Statements for Medicine Labels,
(D) not labelled for the treatment of children 6 years of age or less, and
(E) not labelled for the treatment of children under 12 years of age when combined with caffeine, phenylephrine and/or guaifenesin.
- As a general rule, if you can buy it in the supermarket it is not scheduled, and you can lawfully buy it and put it in your first aid kit.
- If, on the other hand, the package says ‘Pharmacy Medicine’ (Schedule 2); Pharmacist Only Medicine (Schedule 3); Prescription Only Medicine (Schedule 4) or ‘Controlled Drug’ (Schedule 8) you should not have it in your first aid kit without an appropriate authority issued under your state/territory legislation.
- The WorkSafe Australia First aid in the workplace: Model Code of Practice (July 2019) says at p. 31:
Medication including analgesics like paracetamol and aspirin should not be included in first aid kits because of their potential to cause adverse health effects in some people including pregnant women and people with medical conditions like asthma. The supply of these medications may also be controlled by drugs and poisons laws. Workers requiring prescribed and over-the-counter medications should carry their own medication for their personal use as necessary.
However, workplaces may consider including an asthma-relieving inhaler and a spacer to treat asthma attacks and epinephrine auto-injector for the treatment of anaphylaxis or severe allergies. These should be stored according to the manufacturers’ instructions and first aiders should be provided with appropriate training.
- The Code of Practice is a guide to what is considered good practice but is not binding nor is it an authority. It does not authorise the possession of Ventolin or an epi-pen even if it recognises that ‘workplaces may consider including’ those items. Not only would first aiders require training they would require authority under state legislation. Equally it may recommend that ‘analgesics like paracetamol and aspirin should not be included in first aid kits’ but that does not make it illegal to carry them nor does it deal with first aid kits in places other than workplaces or cases where on a risk assessment conducted in accordance with the Work Health and Safety Act it is determined that for whatever reason, the drugs should be included.
- There is no ‘potential liability to the business, volunteers or staff’ if you stock non-scheduled medication and use them according to the instructions. If a person comes to a first aider and says ‘I hit my head, can I have 2 pain killers?’ and then ½ hour later, with slurred speech and altered consciousness, asks for 2 more, it would be remiss to issue the drugs rather than consider that the patient has a more serious injury. The liability (if any) would arise not because there were drugs in the first aid kit but because the first aider did not deal with the patient in a reasonable manner.