Today’s correspondent has been exposed to yet another first aid myth. They say:

I have first aid training and a certification for this and recently completed/refreshed my Advanced Resuscitation qualifications and during the course it was discussed that if you identify yourself as a first aider you are obligated to provide first aid to the casualty.

First does my first aid qualification have an expiry date? Some first aid provider say yes also I have been told by one provider that the first aid qualification does not expire but it is a good idea to refresh your knowledge to keep up to date with changes.

Putting aside the moral issues, if a first aid qualification does expire and I identify myself as having knowledge of first aid am I obligated to perform first aid?

First aid certificates have a three-year expiry, but what does that mean? Fundamentally it’s a workplace requirement – if you are going to get paid to be a first aid officer you need a current first aid certificate. The Safe Work Australia First aid in the workplace: Code of Practice (July 2019) p. 17says:

First aiders should attend training on a regular basis to refresh their first aid knowledge and skills and to confirm their competence to provide first aid. Refresher training in CPR should be carried out annually and first aid qualifications should be renewed every three years.

But this statement and a purported expiry date has no relevance at all when it comes to applying first aid in an emergency eg at a car accident. If you see someone who needs first aid you can offer your assistance whether you finished a first aid certificate last week, last decade or never.

The myth

It is at best a myth to say ‘if you identify yourself as a first aider you are obligated to provide first aid to the casualty’ if the casualty is a stranger. What is confusing about the statement is why would someone identify themselves as a first aider if they did not intend to offer first aid? Putting aside the odd suggestion the mere fact that a person has a first aid cerficate does not give rise to a duty to a duty to treat. First, there is no duty to come to the aid of a stranger. Even a doctor does not have a general duty to render assistance – see Further legal ruling affecting ‘Doctors as ‘good Samaritans’ – do I have to stop?’ (January 3, 2015), so you can say ‘yes I have a first aid certificate, but I’m not prepared to stop’. Second there may be good reasons not to render first aid, eg it’s too dangerous.

If you are a first aider at a workplace you will have a duty to provide first aid, whether you ‘identify yourself as a first aider’, or not – see A duty to provide first aid to work colleagues (December 21, 2016).

But without relevant circumstances between the first aider and the patient the possession of a first aid certificate does not give rise to a duty to render first aid. And the instructor is at best repeating a myth, at worst simply making stuff up.


1.         A first aid certificate does expire but that is really only relevant in a work context.

2.         If you identify yourself as having knowledge of first aid that, on its own, does not give rise to an obligation to perform first aid.