First Aid Wound Care – A Timely Reminder
The initial treatment of a wound in the workplace might be an important first step in helping an injured worker return to work quickly – or it might be the thing that saves a life or a limb. If possible, wear gloves when dealing with blood.
First, stop any visible signs of bleeding by applying direct pressure to the cut or wound, using a clean tissue, cloth or, preferably, sterile gauze. If the wound is on a limb, elevate the arm or leg above the heart.
Call an ambulance immediately if blood is spurting out of the wound (indicating arterial damage), if the wound is on the patient’s chest or abdomen, if you suspect internal bleeding or if the bleeding doesn’t stop after 10 minutes of direct pressure. Depending on the location of the trauma, symptoms of internal bleeding include abdominal swelling or pain, dizziness, fainting, extensive bruising, headache, seizures or loss of consciousness.
As the blood soaks through the initial dressing, don’t discard it, just pile more clean dressings on top and continue to apply pressure. Only apply a tourniquet if bleeding from a limb is excessive or can’t be stopped with direct pressure – and always note the time of application.
Assuming the patient doesn’t need emergency transport to hospital and the bleeding has stopped, clean the wound gently with a sterile saline wash, or use soap and warm water if no saline is available. Apply antibiotic cream and cover with a sterile non-stick dressing and bandage, changing it daily or when blood soaks through - or if the dressing gets wet.
The patient will need to go to a doctor if the wound is deep. How deep? If the edges of the wound are jagged or can’t stay together, or if debris can’t be removed, or if it is a puncture wound, or an animal bite, or if the wound feels numb, they should see a doctor within an hour or so of injury.
If more than 24 hours after the injury occurs, the wound shows redness, tenderness, a (usually yellow or green) discharge or if the patient develops a temperature, they should go straight to the doctor for treatment of a wound infection. Wound infections can lead to death, so err on the side of caution and send them to a doctor.
In Australia, any wound other than a clean minor cut is considered ‘tetanus-prone’. All tetanus-prone wounds require review by a doctor for a tetanus vaccine and possible tetanus immunoglobulin injections.
Remember to wash your hands after dealing with a wound, regardless of whether you have worn gloves or not.