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Medical supplies in your company’s first-aid kit have the potential to make a real difference in an emergency, but did you know that many of them can also expose employers to complex problems? It may sound strange, but there are actually circumstances in which certain medical supplies can be the cause of headaches rather than the cure.

They don’t have to be items contained in your first-aid kit specifically either – medical materials in employee desks or offices can also be problematic. As such, it’s important for employers to familiarize themselves with the scenarios. Let’s take a look.

Personal Emergency Medications and Supplies – A Conundrum

You may have employees that need to store critical, life-saving emergency medications at your office, such as an EpiPen for severe allergic reactions or insulin for diabetic conditions. While it is certainly a wise idea to keep these supplies on hand should an emergency arise, it does present a unique conundrum for employers.

It seems like a catch-22 type of situation – you may need to save someone’s life, but you’re not allowed to ask them to instruct you how to do so beforehand.

Under guidelines from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are not allowed to ask employees about their medical situations – even for instructions as to how to use medical supplies in an emergency. It seems like a catch-22 type of situation – you may need to save someone’s life, but you’re not allowed to ask them to instruct you how to do so beforehand. Nonetheless, the rules are very clear.

The EEOC specifically says, “Once a person is hired and has started work, an employer generally can only ask medical questions or require a medical exam if the employer needs medical documentation to support an employee’s request for an accommodation or if the employer has reason to believe an employee would not be able to perform a job successfully or safely because of a medical condition.”

The storage of an emergency life-saving medication alone is not cited as an accommodation under Department of Labor guidelines, so an employer is not allowed to ask. Also, the ADA states that employees are not required to disclose any information about their medications at work unless they pose a safety threat.

There are a few workarounds, however. You could have all of your employees undergo general life-saving training to familiarize themselves with how to administer these special medications in an emergency. There are even online options for this kind of instruction that are affordable for most operations, if not free.

It’s also worth noting that many doctors will recommend their patients inform their supervisor or a co-worker how to use these items in an emergency and what kinds of symptoms or side effects could indicate a problem. Knowledge is power and, in this case, could very well save someone’s life.

The Issue of OTC Medications

The average workplace throughout the United States will likely have some form of over-the-counter (OTC) medications in its first-aid kit. Everyone gets a headache or a minor injury from time to time, and drugs like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help employees remain productive. But the caveat here is that employees should be supplying their own OTC medications.

If an employer provides OTC meds to their staff, they could be opening themselves up to liability in several ways. Most obviously, if something goes wrong like an allergic reaction, an employer could be found at fault. Even more, providing medicine to an employee could be construed as the employer having knowledge of a disability, which could enable the employee to make a claim of disability discrimination if they ever became terminated.

Did You Know?

Each year, about 10,000 sudden cardiac arrests occur at work in the U.S.

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Source: OSHA

Accessibility and Management

It’s been said that first-aid kits are one of the most frequently forgotten-about items in most workplaces; which could be considered a good thing because perhaps less people are getting injured. However, tossing your first-aid kit into a cabinet and forgetting about it is a bad idea. It needs to be accessible, ready, and stocked or your company won’t be able to administer aid in an emergency. OSHA recommends assigning an individual to perform first-aid management. Their job will be to ensure the kit remains stocked and gets inspected every few weeks to make sure the materials are still useful. Developing an emergency medical plan is also a good idea. Preparedness is key.

A Final Thought – Don’t Be Afraid to Help

There exists a common misconception that a person can be sued for attempting to administer care in an emergency. This notion is unfortunate because it’s simply not true and can dissuade people from helping one another in times of crisis. Employers should know that Indiana, like many states, has a Good Samaritan law that protects individuals from civil liability if they are attempting to render emergency care in good faith. This doesn’t cover negligent behavior, of course, but should ease some of the concerns about being sued for attempting to genuinely help.

In a culture that’s quick to file lawsuits for many different reasons, it’s important to know that materials and actions intended to help can also cause your company harm. Remaining vigilant is the best course of action.

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