Wilderness First Aid For Workplaces

“Our field crews often work in remote areas and OFA1 does not address the situations that we find ourselves in, but OFA1 is what is legally required,” read the email.  “Could you offer a customized wilderness first aid for workplaces course that covers your WFA Field Services material, but also provides OFA1 accreditation?”

Tim Argast is a geomorphologist with Northwest Hydraulic Consultants, and he’s not alone in his question. His email arrived in our inbox shortly after our return from AME BC’s RoundUp conference, where we received numerous questions from drillers, geologists, and students about the equivalency of our Wilderness First Aid for Field Servicescourse with WorkSafe BC’s OFA1 – the minimum first aid requirement for most BC workplaces.

Here’s the bottom line: Raven Medical courses, including everything from Wilderness First Aid for Field Services (WFA-FS) to Wilderness First Responder, are NOT recognized by WorkSafe BC.

No wilderness first aid or wilderness medical course is.  

As a result, most employers require a certification that is approved at a provincial level and don’t want to pay for a second course that may be more relevant, but isn’t considered equivalent.

So what’s a geomorphologist like Tim to do? Let’s explore the options.

Raven Medical patient care

#1. By The Book

The simplest way to meet the need for both types of first aid is by a) having a boss that “gets it” and who is willing to spend more money to provide his employees with training that is relevant to their job descriptions and b) taking two separate courses – OFA1 and WFA-FS.

Another wilderness first aid provider supports this approach on their website, explaining that “OFA and wilderness first aid are like apples and oranges – although they are both fruit, they have different ingredients and serve different purposes … if you need a little of both, we encourage you to invest in both trainings.”

However, we don’t want to give up so easily! We firmly believe that the concepts taught during a Raven Medical course such as WFA-FS equip personnel to respond well in both remote and front-country settings. The skills taught during a Raven Medical course are based on evidence-based research and are taught by medical and rescue practitioners, ie. Raven Medical courses are not about healing with twigs and balsam sap. Think of it this way: a Raven Medical course prepares you for the front-country … and beyond.

However, until the happy day that legislators recognize this, how does the two-course approach sit with clients?

“Not great,” says Tim. “It is a sticking point with our administration that they have to pay for two courses. They’d like us to cover all the material in just one course.”

Which leads us to option number two …

#2. Tweak The Training

Why not create a wilderness first aid for workplaces super-course, ie. a few days of training that would meld the WFA-FS course with OFA1 in a way is relevant to the work environment, while still meeting legislative requirements? 

This is really the question that Tim was asking in his email: why don’t we create a brand new course?

While it’s no magic bullet, we’ve been considering this option for some time, and we think it has a chance of succeeding. There are two ways this could happen.

First, for a (substantial) fee, WorkSafe will perform a comprehensive audit of the Wilderness First Aid for Field Services course to determine if it is equivalent to OFA1. This audit has no guarantees. WorkSafe may very well finish their review and say, “Nope, your course isn’t equivalent and can’t be unless you add a bunch of this, include a few of these, and drop all that other stuff.” We can only speculate what those changes would be at this point, but we’re concerned that the course could be stripped of the very things that make it appealing to field personnel, ie. protocols that emphasize prolonged patient care and the creative use of limited or improvised resources.

We are optimistic that the audit process could confirm that our WFA-FS course provides the same evidence-based approach as the OFA program, as well as an expanded scope of practice to deal with prolonged patient care.  If this happens, field workers will be able to take a three-day WFA-FS course and walk away with two certifications – WFA-FS and OFA1.

The second option is to offer an OFA1 with “wilderness upgrades” added (although this is so much like Option #1 – above – that it’s hardly worth mentioning). However, there’s a chance that with a lot of careful comparison of curriculum, we might be able to shave a day and a few dollars off the total length and cost of the two courses. So far, we haven’t done this because an OFA1 + Wilderness Upgrade would still clock in longer and more costly than an OFA1 on its own … and as a result, it will be extremely difficult to sell to employers. So we’re back to where we started.

Raven Medical patient care

#3. Grassroots Guerrilla

There is a third way … and this is where you come in. If your provincial legislation does not support the training that employers need to keep their employees safe (which we believe you’ll find it doesn’t), it’s time for you to be part of the much needed change.

All of us – employers and employees – have the power to be part of shaping the industry standard. We explain this concept in our article about How Your Rescue Guidelines Shape Industry Standards. So don’t just complain to like-minded colleagues around the water cooler – get vocal about the need for change with your employer, your union rep and your provincial OH&S.

To inspire you, we think there is a glimmer of hope buried within a WorkSafeBC hazard assessment to determine the level of OFA training needed in your workplace. The guidelines for this assessment process (found in section G3.16) state;

“If the recommendations in the tables are not followed, employers are expected to demonstrate that the assessment was conducted diligently and led to a reasonable conclusion about the content or nature of first aid kit, facility and equipment required at the workplace. If their assessment results in levels different from those suggested in the tables, given the circumstances at the workplace, the employer is expected to explain and provide a rationale for the differences.”

We spoke to our contact at WorkSafe BC, and while they confirmed that this commentary only applies to the OFA program, the rationale behind the guideline suggests that at least one provincial OH&S program believes in critical thinking on the part of the employer.

And critical thinking is exactly what is required to lead an industry standard in a new direction when a gap in current practice is identifed.

The Verdict: Wilderness First Aid For Workplaces

While Northwest Hydraulic Consultants isn’t going to get their ideal “two-certifications-in-one” wilderness first aid for workplaces course any time soon, we’re happy to be part of the discussion that will hopefully lead to the adoption of standards that meet the real needs of field crews like Tim’s.

Raven Rescue Safety Medical remote worksite