According to a recent poll, only 14% of employees feel comfortable with talking about their mental health concerns at work, indicating a need for a cultural change at many companies to become more open and supportive when it comes to our psychological wellbeing.
Mental health is a significant problem in workplaces throughout the country. Government research in 2017 showed that 300,000 people with a long term mental health problem lose their jobs each year, at a significantly higher rate than those with physical health conditions. Around 15% of workers have symptoms of an existing mental health condition. The annual cost to British employers is estimated to be between £33bn and £42bn, with a total nationwide economic cost of up to £99bn each year. This means that improving mental health is in everybody’s interest, including employers.
Managers feel unsupported, staff fear for their jobs
To be successful, employers must implement a mental health strategy at every level of their organisation. A recent survey revealed 60% of line managers think they aren’t getting enough help from their organisation to support their staff’s mental health, and only 31% said they were sufficiently trained to recognise the signs of mental ill health in colleagues. On the other hand, 80% of workers said they wouldn’t discuss poor mental health with their manager because of fears for their job security or career progression. This indicates a need to provide more training and support to managers whilst changing company culture and breaking down taboos, making it clear to staff that they’re able to open up without fear of damaging their careers.
Mental Health First Aid
One way in which many companies are providing support to staff and driving change within their organisations is through the concept of Mental Health First Aid. The goal of a Mental Health First Aid course is to raise awareness about mental health, reduce stigma around the subject, and give selected employees the knowledge and confidence to offer a helping hand if they believe a colleague is struggling with a mental health problem. Mental Health First Aiders are intended to be a first point of contact and assistance for their fellow employees, helping spot issues, offer support and direct their colleagues towards further help.
Mental Health First Aiders can also be a valuable resource to drive cultural change in an organisation, using their knowledge to suggest new initiatives and encourage openness in the workplace. Not everyone has to undertake a full Mental Health First Aider course to do this. We offer a one day Mental Health First Aid Champions course alongside our full 2 day course. This is particularly useful for line managers, who should be aware of mental health issues and empowered to drive change whilst recognising that people are more likely to turn to other colleagues for confidential support.
Book one of our Mental Health First Aid courses by 31/05/2019 and you’ll get 10% off as well as a free mental health awareness bundle.
Recently a sound engineer, Simon Daniels, hit headlines for saving former football player and England manager Glenn Hoddle at the BT Sport studio in London. Daniels performed CPR and used a defibrillator on Hoddle before paramedics arrived. Without this quick intervention before the arrival of emergency services, Hoddle may not have survived. Unfortunately, a lack of knowledge and confidence in how to handle cardiac arrest means many bystanders fail to act.
CPR is amongst the simplest and most important of all first aid skills, but should someone experience cardiac arrest, use of an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) can boost their chances of survival much more than CPR alone. An AED cannot be effective without good-quality CPR, but conversely, CPR alone is very unlikely to restore normal heart function.
Understanding cardiac arrest and CPR
Cardiac arrest is when the heart stops pumping blood (many people confuse this with a heart attack – while a heart attack may lead to cardiac arrest, during a heart attack the casualty is still responsive and breathing). This causes a rapid loss of consciousness, meaning the casualty becomes completely unresponsive, and their breathing becomes highly abnormal or ceases altogether. If someone does not respond to any external stimulus and is not breathing normally, you must always begin CPR.
While CPR can, rarely, lead to a return of spontaneous circulation, with the casualty’s heart ‘restarting’ and subsequently a resumption in normal breathing and possibly responsiveness, the main aim of CPR is to keep oxygen flowing around the body (in particular, to the brain) until medical treatment can restore heart function.
CPR consists of chest compressions, which are intended to manually pump the heart and circulate blood around the body, combined with ‘rescue breaths’, which aims to breathe for the patient and add more oxygen to the blood. However, hands-only CPR is far more preferable to no CPR at all and may be more suitable for those without training.
What does CPR do?
While CPR alone is unlikely to restore the heart to normal function, it is absolutely crucial to survival in cases of cardiac arrest. This is because it restores a partial flow of oxygenated blood to the brain and heart, delaying tissue death and extending the timespan in which successful resuscitation is possible. Without oxygen, brain tissue dies within minutes, leaving the casualty permanently brain damaged if they survive at all. Cardiac arrest is a race against time for the casualty and good CPR can buy them more time.
Without CPR by bystanders until the arrival of emergency services, even if they are summoned promptly, chances of survival are vanishingly small. The target response time for NHS ambulances is 7 minutes. Even if this is achieved, by 7 minutes without oxygen permanent brain damage has often already occurred, as brain cells begin shut down after 4-6 minutes. In most circumstances, after ten minutes without oxygen, brain cells cease to function altogether, resulting in death or severe neurological damage.
To delay this, CPR must be commenced as early as possible; the earlier this starts, the more likely the casualty is to survive and to survive without permanent disability. Should emergency services take longer than 6 minutes to arrive, continuous CPR from bystanders, preferably combined with use of an AED, is the only thing which can give a casualty a chance of survival. CPR must always be continued until emergency services arrive or, in rare cases, until the casualty begins to breathe normally or become responsive.
Understanding this is key, because people may mistake CPR as being intended to restart the heart and give up hope if no responsiveness is achieved and emergency services are slow to arrive. However, due to good-quality CPR and expert medical care, people have been known to be resuscitated after hours without a heartbeat. Keeping enough oxygenated blood flowing around the body can keep the cells from dying off for a long time until their heart begins to beat for itself.
It is also vital to understand that if someone is in cardiac arrest and needs CPR, it is impossible to make things worse for them, by breaking their ribs for example. Correct CPR often does crack ribs. However, as long as somebody is unresponsive and not breathing, they are effectively dead and have absolutely zero chance of recovery without first aid and/or medical attention. If bystanders do cause injuries to the casualty during CPR, they cannot get into legal trouble for doing so – there has never been an incidence of this in the United Kingdom.
How can an AED further boost chances of survival?
There is more than one cause of cardiac arrest. In ventricular fibrillation, the heart quivers rather than beats due to abnormal electrical activity. In pulseless ventricular tachycardia, the heart beats quickly and regularly but without pumping blood around the body. These are known as ‘shockable’ cardiac arrests, meaning that a defibrillator can restore normal electrical activity to the heart so it begins to pump correctly.
In these instances, emergency services would also use a defibrillator to attempt to save a casualty’s life. However, the earlier this is performed, the greater the chances of survival, as this limits the amount of time the brain and other vital organs have gone without a full supply of oxygenated blood. An AED is designed to be used by bystanders at the scene before emergency services arrive. The device, once powered on, instructs users how to correctly attach the machine’s electrode pads to the casualty’s chest, analyses the casualty’s heart rhythm, and then gives a potentially lifesaving shock either completely automatically or at the press of a button.
An AED cannot be effective without CPR; CPR is vital to keep the casualty sufficiently oxygenated up until the point their heart is restarted – this can require multiple shocks so CPR must continue between shocks too. While an AED shock does not guarantee survival, it does greatly increase the chances compared to later defibrillation by emergency services.
In some cases, an AED will analyse the casualty’s heart rhythm and decide a shock is not recommended. This is because there are two ‘non-shockable’ forms of cardiac arrest: asystole and pulseless electrical activity. Only CPR and professional medical help can give casualties in these situations a chance of survival. It’s therefore vital that CPR continues with minimal interruptions until help arrives. Most AEDs will continuously guide the responder’s CPR to help them with their technique.
Because it’s impossible to tell whether a cardiac arrest is shockable or non-shockable without the use of equipment, you should always send someone to locate and retrieve an AED whilst you commence CPR.
Just how effective are CPR and AEDs?
Determining the statistical effectiveness of CPR and AED use is difficult, as it isn’t possible to do lab studies for obvious reasons. It has been suggested that bystander CPR can increase survival rates by 2-3 times. However, unfortunately it’s all too common for cardiac arrest victims to go without bystander CPR, and use of AEDs is rare. A Resuscitation Council Report suggests that only 30-40% of cardiac arrest victims receive CPR by bystanders, and ultimately only 8% of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest victims survive to be discharged from hospital.
AED use is even rarer – used in just 2% of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests. AEDs are now found in many public places, but many people lack the knowledge and confidence to seek them out and use them. Every minute that goes by without defibrillation lowers survival chances by 10% for those with a shockable heart rhythm. However, early administration of CPR combined with an AED can raise survival chances to as high as 40%!
While ensuring more people throughout the country have the training to recognise cardiac arrest, perform good CPR and use an AED where possible is essential, it’s equally important to ensure they have the confidence to apply this knowledge in real-life situations.
CPR is a common feature of basic first aid training. Our courses teach people to carry out the primary survey and ascertain when CPR is required, and how to perform CPR correctly. While emergency services will talk people through CPR on the phone if they’re untrained, good-quality chest compressions are key to survival and trained responders are more likely to be able to deliver this. Trained first aiders are much more likely to have the confidence to act, which is important when so many people go without help from bystanders. CPR is a key first aid skill and is taught in all our courses, including our half day basic first aid training course.
AED training is also very useful for any organisation that has AEDs on site. Although AEDs are designed to be used by anyone and to talk users through the defibrillation process, a lack of knowledge and understanding prevents people from recognising when an AED should be used or having the confidence to use one. Giving people the chance to train with AEDs in a controlled environment familiarises them with the devices. Once they understand how safe and easy it is to use an AED, they are much more likely to do so. AED use forms part of our 3 day first aid at work course, but we also offer a special half day defibrillator training course which is perfect for augmenting employees’ existing first aid skills or ensuring everyone on site is able to use these lifesaving devices even if they aren’t otherwise first aid trained.
You may have heard of mental health first aid already – it’s being introduced to more and more workplaces across the UK and has been written about in several high-profile publications. There are good reasons for this.
Awareness of mental health problems has been growing in recent years, as has the scale of the challenges we face from them as a society. Mental health care from the NHS is being stretched to breaking point after years of austerity, while six times more young people reportedly suffer from mental health conditions today than in 1995. Whatever the reasons for this, it is clear that many of us will struggle with a mental health problem at some time in our lives. In fact, it’s thought that each year, 1 in 4 UK adults experiences one. A recent survey suggested that a massive 48% of British workers have experienced a mental health problem at one point in their current job. However, two-thirds of us feel like we have no-one to talk to about mental health.
Employers have a legal duty to care for their employees, making sure their work is as safe as possible: both in terms of preventing accidents and avoiding work-related health problems, and in providing sufficient first aid for any injuries that do take place. The law doesn’t stipulate that employers have to care for their employee’s mental health, however – despite the fact that many mental health problems can be caused by, or aggravated by, work; heavy workloads, for example, can cause stress and anxiety which can in turn cause insomnia (harming physical health) and damage personal relationships. And just like physical health conditions, poor mental health can cost lives: suicide is the leading cause of death for males under the age of 45, accounting for 5,965 deaths in 2016.
Although mental health problems can be just as debilitating, or even life-threatening, as physical health conditions, the level of acceptance and understanding throughout society is much poorer. The same study that revealed 48% of workers have suffered a mental health problem in their current employment also revealed half of those workers hadn’t revealed it to their employers. There are some good reasons for this. There is still stigma attached to mental health problems and employees worry that disclosing their condition may harm their chances of promotion or even put their job in jeopardy.
Furthermore, there is also markedly less understanding and sympathy across the board when an employee takes sick leave for their mental health. One survey showed 42% of staff calling in sick due to mental health pretended to have a physical health problem instead, while 25% believed they wouldn’t be taken seriously if they told their employer they were suffering a mental health problem. Around two-thirds of respondents felt their colleagues had a negative perception of mental health issues while 88% who suffered one said their job was either the primary cause or a contributing factor to their illness.
Additionally, many employees feel, rightly or wrongly, that there is a lack of support available in the workplace to help them cope with their problem. A study showed 86% of working adults believe companies don’t do enough to support them with work-related mental health issues. However, the workplace is in a great position to offer support – we spend a large amount of our waking hours at work and many of us spend more time around our colleagues each week than friends or loved ones.
What is mental health first aid and how can it help?
Although businesses aren’t expected to have professional phycologists in their employ, there are steps that businesses can take to increase support for their workforce. Having key staff, particularly line managers, attend a mental health first aider course is a great way to do this.
The purpose of mental health first aid training is to equip staff with the knowledge and skills to spot and assist those in distress in an appropriate manner. The course aims to challenge and reduce the stigma around mental health, educate staff about common mental health conditions and how to spot symptoms, provide tips for looking after your own mental health, and give people the confidence to constructively engage someone who is in difficulty and the knowledge to guide them to the right support. The training also teaches you to diffuse a crisis, helping prevent someone harm themselves or others. Just as first aid training doesn’t make you a doctor, the aim of mental health first aid training isn’t to teach people how to be a therapist, but to offer crucial support, advice, and emergency intervention if needed.
Why is mental health first aid worth the investment?
According to the Centre for Mental Health, mental health issues cost UK employers around £35bn each year in reduced productivity, sickness leave and staff turnover, while other research suggests around 300,000 people with longstanding mental health conditions exit the workforce each year. Figures from the HSE show that in 2016/17, 40% of cases of work-related ill health were due to stress, depression or anxiety, affecting over half a million workers, while these three mental health conditions accounted for 49% of all working days lost to ill health – around 12.6 million. This excludes other less common mental health conditions.
With the right help, it’s perfectly possible for most people to continue to function as a productive and valuable part of the workforce while experiencing mental health problems, whether they be short-term or part of a longer-term condition. However, a lack of understanding or support, aggravating factors like heavy workloads and poor workplace culture, or even worse, discrimination, can lower productivity, increase absenteeism or force the employee to quit altogether. In the worst case, if an employee can demonstrate they’ve been discriminated against or constructively dismissed, a lawsuit can follow.
We believe that implementing a mental health policy to support employees – of which mental health first aid is a key component – could save employers across the UK at least £10bn a year. This saving is through reducing absenteeism, improving productivity and increasing the retention of skilled employees.
When out and about, we tend to take Britain’s nature for granted. Asides from those of us with allergies to wasp and bee stings, we view the countryside as a safe place. However, there is a dangerous species of plant which grows in many places, including along urban waterways and footpaths and in parks and wasteland: Giant Hogweed.
This hazardous weed was introduced to Britain in the 19th century as an ornamental plant, but this proved to be a mistake; Giant Hogweed is highly invasive and has spread across the country. Growing up to five metres tall, the plant features a thick green stem with white hairs. It produces white flowers clustered in an umbrella-like head. The plant is toxic upon contact with human skin, causing injuries akin to severe burns when exposed to sunlight. People should avoid all contact with it if possible. The bad news is, in the current heatwave its thriving.
Why is Giant Hogweed dangerous?
The plant’s sap contains chemicals which, when in contact with human skin, react with light, causing phytophotodermatitis. Once activated by sunlight, the chemicals cause extensive DNA damage, resulting in severe blisters and scarring. The skin turns red and starts itching, and as the burning worsens, blisters usually form within 48 hours. Giant Hogweed burns leave scars that can last for years. It can also result in long-term sensitivity to sunlight. If the plant comes into contact with eyes, it can cause temporary blindness.
What should I do if I touch Giant Hogweed?
The burns after contact with Giant Hogweed become second and third-degree burns very quickly, and become worse the longer the affected area is exposed to UV rays. As a result, it’s advised that you protect the affected area from light exposure immediately. Wash it with soap and water as soon as possible and then continue to cover the affected area for at least a few days to prevent any chemicals which have penetrated the skin from activating. Any blisters tend to heal very slowly, and sufferers may develop a skin rash that flares up in sunlight long after initial contact. The best thing to do is avoid Giant Hogweed entirely, and to be especially vigilant when with children.
If you or your child feels ill or develops severe burns after suspected contact with Giant Hogweed, seek medical advice.
If you want to learn how to give essential first aid to people in a wide variety of scenarios, take a look at our first aid courses running in locations across London and in Dunstable.
Many people will be familiar with the UK’s leading causes of death: Alzheimer’s, cancer, heart disease, stroke. But there is a distinct lack of awareness when it comes to sepsis; in fact 44% of people have never heard of it. Also known as septicaemia or blood poisoning, this devastating illness affects 150,000 and kills 44,000 people in the UK each year.
As if this 29% mortality rate wasn’t frightening enough, many survivors of sepsis are left with life-changing injuries. Recently, the media reported the story of Jaco Nel, who received a tiny cut on his hand whilst playing with his dog, which was infected by the animal’s saliva. Mistaking his symptoms for the flu, Mr Nel was eventually taken to hospital, where he had to be put into a medically-induced coma. Ultimately, Mr Nel lost five fingers, both his legs and suffered facial disfigurement.
Sepsis occurs when the body’s immune system over-reacts to an infection, attacking its own tissues and major organs. This requires rapid hospital treatment with fluids and antibiotics. Death usually comes as the result of multiple organ failure. For every hour that treatment is delayed, the chances of survival shrink by 8 percent. This makes seeking medical attention as soon as possible absolutely crucial. However, due to the lack of awareness and the nature of the symptoms, which in adults can be similar to flu, sepsis can easily be misdiagnosed or ignored until it’s too late.
Anyone can develop sepsis, though people with weakened immune systems as the result of medical conditions or treatment, the very young and very old, and people who have just had surgery or injuries from an accident are most at risk. Sepsis isn’t only contracted via infections of wounds; any infection can trigger sepsis, like pneumonia or a urinary tract infection. While the early symptoms of sepsis are harder to spot, anyone with sepsis will become seriously ill without treatment.
Spotting sepsis: Children under five
The clearest symptoms of sepsis are as follows:
Skin that looks mottled, bluish or pale
Child is difficult to wake or very lethargic
Skin feels abnormally cold
Child has abnormally fast breathing
There is a rash on the skin that doesn’t fade when pressed upon
The child has a fit or convulsion
If you spot any of the above symptoms, you should take the child directly to A&E or call 999 for an ambulance.
There are a number of other possible symptoms which could indicate sepsis, which are listed in full here. However, The UK Sepsis Trust highlights the following symptoms:
Unwillingness to feed/eat
Hasn’t passed urine for 12 hours or more
The NHS recommends you call 111 for medical advice immediately if you believe your child has one of these other listed symptoms.
Older children and adults
The early signs of sepsis in older children and adults can easily be mistaken for a flu or severe chest infection. These can include:
A high temperature (fever) or abnormally low body temperature
Chills and shivering
A rapid heartbeat
Sepsis rapidly becomes more serious. Symptoms of severe sepsis or septic shock (when the blood pressure drops to dangerous levels) include:
Cold, clammy and pale/mottled skin
Confusion or disorientation
Nausea and vomiting
Severe muscle pain
Less urination than normal – e.g. not passing water for 24 hours
Seek urgent medical advice if you are concerned that you may have early symptoms of sepsis, particularly if you’ve recently had an infection or injury, no matter how minor. If there are symptoms of severe sepsis or septic shock, call for an ambulance or go to A&E straight away. Sepsis is incredibly dangerous and must be treated as a matter of urgency. If it’s caught early enough, however, most people make a full recovery. To limit your chances of contracting sepsis in the first place, it’s a good idea to thoroughly wash and/or disinfect, and cover with a plaster or sterile dressing, any wound which breaks your skin, no matter how small it is. Even tiny, apparently clean wounds can become infected, which can in turn result in sepsis.
Being a parent isn’t easy. There’s nothing more important than keeping your children safe from harm, but in our rapidly changing world, the dangers in our homes aren’t always obvious. One small piece of technology which has made headlines for the wrong reasons is the lithium coin battery, or button battery, found in a vast number of common domestic items, including remote controls, watches, LED lights, key fobs, electronic toys and greeting cards.
The problem with these batteries is that they’re only 1 to 2 centimetres in diameter, making them easily swallowed. Small children are naturally curious and can find these batteries in items that you might not give much thought to, like bathroom scales. If these batteries are swallowed, even when ‘dead’, they can cause serious and long-lasting injuries, or even death, within a matter of hours.
What makes button batteries so dangerous?
Button batteries can get stuck in the oesophagus, or food pipe, which links the mouth to the stomach. Once lodged there, the batteries react with mucus or saliva in the body, creating an electrical circuit which produces a caustic soda-like substance, a strong alkali which burns through body tissues. These batteries can burn through the lining of the oesophagus. This may be severe enough to create a hole in the oesophagus, and it can also damage the windpipe, vocal cords, or even major blood vessels including the aorta. All of these injuries can mean complicated, long-term treatment and repeated surgery is required.
It takes just a matter of hours for button batteries to do serious damage, which starts within 15 minutes. The BBC reported the story of a three-year old who swallowed a watch battery in April 2015. Although she was sick and refused to eat, it took five days for an X-ray to reveal that she had swallowed a battery. By then, a hole had been burned through her food pipe and windpipe. She had to spend nine months in hospital, undergoing repeated operations. Over a year later she was still making frequent trips to the hospital and has a bag attached to a hole in her neck to prevent liquid and food getting into her lungs via the damaged windpipe.
Other children have, sadly, died within hours of swallowing a button battery. There have also been cases of children putting button batteries into their noses or ears, causing other very unpleasant injuries.
The signs that a child has swallowed a battery
A child who has swallowed a button battery may not exhibit any immediate symptoms. However, those that do develop can include:
Coughing or vomiting blood
Loss of appetite
Complaining of feeling unwell
If you believe your child has swallowed or may have swallowed a button battery, take them to A&E as quickly as possible. Do not wait for them to exhibit symptoms. The battery will need to be removed as soon as possible to limit the damage. Do not let them eat or drink once you suspect they’ve swallowed a battery, as they will need to be placed under anaesthetic for treatment. You should not try to make them vomit. If your child gets a button battery stuck in their nose or ear, you should also take them to A&E.
Making your home button battery-safe
The best way to prevent harm from button batteries is to treat them like other dangerous items or chemicals and keep them away from children or make it difficult for children to access them. You should:
Dispose of any dead batteries as soon as possible. These should not be put in household rubbish, but into special disposal containers, which can often be found in supermarkets
Keep any new batteries in their original packaging somewhere inaccessible to children
Keep items containing button batteries out of sight and reach of children. Tape down any battery compartments where this isn’t possible
Only buy electronic toys and other equipment from reputable stores. These items are more likely to comply with safety laws
While the only thing to do if your child swallows a battery is take them to a hospital or call an ambulance as soon as possible, there’s lots of instances where first aid knowledge could really help your child, or even save their life. We strongly recommend parents enrol on a first aid course!
According to the Stroke Association, each year there are more than 100,000 strokes in the UK. While strokes tend to affect older people, there are nonetheless over 400 childhood strokes each year too. Stroke is the fourth biggest cause of death in the UK, and leaves almost two thirds of survivors with a disability.
The average age for stroke sufferers is 74 for men and 80 for women, but a quarter of strokes happen in working age people. As the workforce, and the population as a whole, ages, it is thought that strokes will become increasingly commonplace. Research by King’s College London predicted a 44% rise in cases by 2035.
The faster someone suffering a stroke receives treatment, the better their prognosis. This makes it important to recognise the signs of a stroke quickly.
Spotting stroke symptoms F.A.S.T.
You can easily remember the most common symptoms of stroke, and test for them, using the word ‘fast’.
Face: Strokes often cause facial weakness. Look to see if the face has dropped on one side, and ask them to smile. Are they only able to smile on one side of their mouth? If so, this is a strong indication of stroke
Arms: Ask them to raise both arms. If they are only able to lift or hold up one arm, this is a sign of stroke
Speech: If they are struggling to speak clearly, this is a sign of stroke
Time: If the answer to any of the previous questions is yes, it’s time to call 999 and tell the emergency services you suspect the person is having a stroke
Other possible symptoms include:
Loss or blurring of vision
Difficulty with comprehension
Problems with co-ordination and balance
A sudden, severe headache
Loss of consciousness
Weakness or paralysis of one side of the body
Transient ischaemic attack
This is often known as a minor or mini stroke and has roughly the same symptoms, but with effects that only last for a few minutes up to 24 hours, followed by a full recovery. These TIAs should be responded to the same way as a full stroke (as it’s initially impossible to tell them apart) and treated urgently even after symptoms subside as they’re often a warning sign that the person is at risk of a full stroke in the near future. Whenever someone appears to be having a stroke, call 999. Even if they recover shortly, they still need to receive tests and treatment.
Learn how to save lives
Being able to quickly identify medical emergencies and call for help or administer first aid can be the difference between life and death. With emergencies like stroke, the faster you act, the better the outcome. By taking a first aid course, you will learn about the symptoms and appropriate response to a wide range of common injuries and illnesses, and learn how to administer CPR, control bleeding and much more. If you want to become a fully qualified workplace first aider, book onto our 3 day First Aid at Work course held at locations across London and in Dunstable.
Here in the UK, there aren’t many dangerous animals to contend with. It’s been a long time since we had wolves or bears, and just as you won’t worry much about the wildlife when you go hiking in the countryside, most people wouldn’t give it a second thought when they take a trip to the coast. During the summer millions of Brits will head to beaches across the UK to make the most out of the sunshine. You probably know that jellyfish sting, but what people might not realise is there are actually a number of other dangerous sea creatures in Britain’s coastal waters that can give us very painful, even potentially life-threatening, stings.
Here’s what you need to look out for if you’re heading down to the coast, and what you can do if you or a loved one get hurt.
Jellyfish, weever fish, sea urchins, stingrays and the Portuguese Man O’ War
All of these venomous sea creatures can be found around our coasts (though the Man O’ War is quite rare), and jellyfish in particular often wash up on our beaches. All of them can give you a nasty sting, and the advice in terms of treatment is broadly similar, though weever fish are more dangerous. Generally speaking, deaths from sea creatures on UK coasts are very rare, though more severe reactions are possible, and stings may trigger anaphylaxis in some people. Due to the possible side effects, it’s important to remove yourself or the casualty from the sea as soon as an injury occurs. A loss of mobility or consciousness in the water may lead to drowning.
Jellyfish stings usually happen in the water but you can still be stung by a jellyfish that’s washed up on the shore, even if it’s dead. Most jellyfish stings are mild and don’t require professional medical care. If you’re stung, you should get out of the water, then use seawater (not tap or bottled water) to rinse your skin to clear away any stinging cells. Afterwards, you should immerse the affected area in hot water, or use a hot flannel or towel if this is not possible. Never apply ice, a cold pack, or any other remedy you may have heard of (yes, that includes peeing on the sting).
After being stung, a painful, itchy rash with welts will develop where contact was made with the jellyfish’s tentacles. Other symptoms can include:
Nausea or vomiting
Swollen lymph nodes
Tingling or numbness
If severe symptoms like breathing difficulties, trouble swallowing or chest pains are experienced, if the sting is over a large area, or if sensitive parts of the body like the face or genitals have been stung, you should call for an ambulance. In rare cases people can react badly to a sting and it can result in coma or even death.
Weever fish stings
Weevers are small fish with venomous spines on their dorsal fins and gills. They bury themselves in the sand in shallow water to lie in wait for prey during the day. Therein lies the problem; people can step on them by accident and receive a nasty sting from the spines along the top of their bodies. Weevers are particularly common around the southern coasts of the UK. The NHS recommends that you get immediate medical attention if you’re stung by a weever fish.
Weever stings are said to be extremely painful, and although most people will make a full recovery without treatment, severe symptoms can develop. To reduce the pain until medical attention is received, you can immerse the affected area in hot water, as hot as can be tolerated, for up to 90 minutes. Alternatively, a heat pack can be used. Any large spines should be removed carefully from the wound using tweezers. After removal, the wound should be cleaned with soap and water and then rinsed thoroughly with fresh water. The wound should be left uncovered.
Minor symptoms include:
Intense pain for the first two hours
Nausea or vomiting
More serious symptoms can include:
Abnormal heart rhythm
Shortness of breath
A drop in blood pressure
Bouts of unconsciousness
These more serious symptoms are uncommon but you should call an ambulance if someone appears to be having a severe reaction to the sting.
Sea urchin stings
These small, round, spikey creatures can give you a very unpleasant sting if stepped on. Similarly with weevers, it’s recommended you immerse the affected area in hot water to reduce pain. Any large spines stuck in the wound should be removed with tweezers, while smaller parts can be removed by gently scraping them out with a razor blade. The use of a small amount of shaving foam may help. You should then scrub the wound and rinse it with fresh water, and you shouldn’t close the wound with tape. Several puncture wounds can lead to more serious problems, including aching muscles, shock, and even paralysis or respiratory failure. Seek immediate medical help if you experience severe symptoms, especially breathing problems or chest pains.
The Common Stingray can be found along the coast of the English Channel. Although stingrays aren’t aggressive, it has a venomous tail spine that can inflict an extremely painful wound either as a jagged cut or a puncture. It’s possible for the spine to get stuck in the wound, as rays shed these easily. Most stingray wounds are inflicted on divers, but they may also bury themselves in sand in shallow water where bathers can step on them.
Along with pain and swelling, symptoms can include:
Nausea and vomiting
Weakness and dizziness
Low blood pressure
Shortness of breath
Alert a lifeguard if there’s one nearby and always call 999 when someone is wounded by a stingray. Stings are very rarely fatal, but puncture wounds to the heart or abdomen are especially dangerous. The famous conservationist Steve Irwin was killed by a stingray wound to the heart whilst filming in the sea in 2006.
Portuguese Man O’ War
Rare in UK waters, these distinctive creatures can be found more often throughout the warmer parts of the Atlantic, including the Mediterranean. Nonetheless, in October 2017 they washed up along the south western coast of England in record numbers. These creatures appear on the surface of the water with their numerous long tentacles streaming underneath. The Portuguese Man O’ War isn’t actually a jellyfish, but is, bizarrely, a floating colonial organism made up of individual animals, which are completely co-dependent and cannot exist alone.
Portuguese Man O’ War stings can cause a severe, potentially fatal, allergic reaction, which can include difficulty breathing and cardiac distress, though this is rare. Stings usually result in a painful red line with small white lesions. Blisters and welts may appear in severe cases. Seek medical attention if the pain lasts more than an hour, if the rash worsens, or if there are signs of infection like swelling and fever. Immersing the affected skin in hot water or applying a hot water flannel can help reduce the pain, as with jellyfish stings.
In rare cases, it’s possible for people to become seriously ill from contact with these venomous marine animals. Signs that it’s time to call for an ambulance include:
Unresponsiveness/bouts of unresponsiveness
Anyone who collapses as the result of a severe reaction to venom should be treated in the same way as any other casualty. First, check their responsiveness. Next, check their breathing. If they’re unresponsive and not breathing normally, it’s time to start CPR. If they are breathing, place them in the recovery position until medical help arrives.
Fortunately its unlikely you’ll be stung on any given visit to the coast, though this can depend on where you are, what you’re doing and what season it is. Marine life can be tough to spot, but you can minimise your risk of injury by wearing a wetsuit when swimming in the sea (particularly in secluded areas where there aren’t other bathers to raise the alarm) and by wearing waterproof shoes or sandals when walking in shallow water or rocky areas. Scuffing your feet in the sand whilst walking through shallows can help by scaring away any weever fish that might be buried in your path.
Having to give first aid for stings by venomous sea creatures probably isn’t a regular occurrence for most of us, but should the very worst happen by the sea or anywhere else, your first aid skills could save a life. That’s why it’s a great idea to enrol on a first aid course and learn how to treat wounds, perform CPR, prevent choking and much more. Browse our first aid courses here.
The UK is currently experiencing its worst outbreak of scarlet fever in 40 years, so now is a good time to learn more about this contagious illness, especially if you’re a parent, teacher or childcare worker. Scarlet fever usually affects children (though can infect adults too) and can be distressing. While it was a serious illness in the past, today it is treatable and complications are rare. Scarlet fever is highly contagious, however, and spreads in tiny droplets found in the breath, coughs and sneezes. It’s important to recognise scarlet fever symptoms quickly so you can prevent it from spreading further, and to be prescribed the necessary antibiotics.
Scarlet fever symptoms
The first signs of scarlet fever can be flu-like symptoms, including a high temperature of 38C or more, and swollen glands in the neck, indicated by a large lump on the side of the neck. However, scarlet fever can most easily be identified by the rash that appears a few days later:
A pink-red rash appears on the body, often starting on the torso before spreading. This looks like sunburn with bumps and has a texture like sandpaper. This is sometimes itchy
A white coating sometimes appears on the tongue. This peels off, leaving the tongue red and swollen
The rash doesn’t spread to the face but the cheeks can be flushed
Other symptoms include:
What should you do?
If you suspect that you, your child, or a child under your care has scarlet fever, you should minimise contact between the infected person and others. For example, don’t continue going into work or sending the child to school. Call a GP before going to the doctor’s surgery in person, as scarlet fever is very contagious. Don’t go to the hospital as this is unnecessary and will put others at risk.
Your GP will prescribe antibiotics, which will significantly shorten the duration of the illness and reduce the risk of complications.
How long does recovery take?
With antibiotic treatment, the sufferer will only be infectious for 24 hours after their initial tablet. Otherwise, the infectious period lasts for 2 weeks after symptoms start. Without treatment, as well as being infectious for much longer, the sufferer also runs the risk of developing complications. This means seeing a GP and getting antibiotics is very important.
Complications are rare, but can include:
If the sufferer doesn’t get better within a week of starting treatment, or is ill again in the weeks after the fever has cleared up, arrange another visit to the GP to ensure there aren’t any complications. The skin can peel for a few weeks after all the other symptoms have subsided.
When it comes to scarlet fever, there’s little parents can do other than keep their child at home and contact a GP. But there’s many other illnesses and injuries which can be treated with first aid. We encourage all parents to learn about protecting their children with first aid training. Take a look at our 1 day first aid for children course.
Safety First Aid Training offer both workplace first aid courses, which are focused on adult casualties,
and paediatric first aid training courses, which focus on children and infants. You might wonder why there are separate courses for adults and children. The short answer is that in some key areas, the advice for children is different from that of adults. Therefore, for parents, child-minders, teachers, and anyone else who supervises children on a regular basis, it’s important to know these differences and the right response.
Treating children and infants also poses different challenges. Children may be unable to describe how they feel or understand what is happening, and are much less likely to remain calm and follow instructions. Children are also prone to different illnesses and injuries than adults.
Where does first aid advice differ for adults and children?
Here are just some examples of first aid advice which differs for adults, children and infants:
For adults, you should use two hands for chest compressions. With children over 1 years old, you should only use one hand, and for infants under 1 year, you must only use two fingers.
For adults, you should begin CPR with chest compressions, while for children and infants you should begin with five rescue breaths followed by compressions.
For adults, you can use any AED fitted with standard pads. For children under 8 years old, it is highly advised that you use special paediatric AED pads where available, which deliver a less powerful shock. If not available, you should still use adult pads.
When using paediatric AED pads on small children aged 1-8, one pad should be placed in the centre of the child’s back, with the other one on the centre of their chest. For adults and older children, both pads go on the chest.
The procedure for choking adults and children is very similar, but is very different for babies due to their much smaller size. Babies and young children are much more likely to choke on food or foreign objects than adults, making this a key part of a paediatric first aid course.
Unlike adults, children under four years old have not fully developed the part of the brain that regulates body temperature. This means that when sick, their body temperature can rise rapidly, triggering febrile convulsions, which are a form of seizure. This is an issue specific to young children.
Accidents and illnesses in the home are commonplace. However, despite being concerned for their children’s welfare, many parents lack either first aid supplies or training. This training could be life-saving. We recommend all expectant parents or parents with young children enrol on a first aid course!