Principles of First Aid and Why it Actually Works

The basic construct of first aid dates back to 1099. Then knights started the Order of St. John to bring medical assistance to those injured during battle. Nearly 800 years later, Friedrich Esmarch founded what became the modern-day version of first aid, and it was the St. John Ambulance in the UK that first used these practices.

Now, first aiders are required by law to be in certain workplaces, as well as schools. Children and adults can also attend first aid courses and become certified, and these courses are readily available and in some instances free.

However, studies show that only around 5% of the population has some form of first-aid training. This is despite the fact that the core principles surrounding first aid can and have saved lives on numerous occasions.

How do you become first aid certified?

There are now quite a few free first-aid courses online run by various organizations. Most on-site courses will involve a fee but the value speaks for itself. The Red Cross plus the St. John Ambulance conducts courses in person across the world and has online resources also.

Employers are under certain obligations to provide first aid in the workplace, and they should encourage employees to undertake training and become certified. In these instances, the employer would cover the costs.

There are thousands of first aid trainers and centers in the US, UK, and most other countries. For instance, in Sheffield, England you can find first aid in the workplace courses at Similarly, if you Google first aid in New York, you would get plenty of choices ranging from the Red Cross to private trainers.

What do the leading principles of first aid involve?

Depending on what source material you are reading, you may find 3,5, or more first-aid principles. However, it is largely accepted that there are 5 main principles of first aid.

The 5 main principles are:

  • Preserve life
  • Prevent the escalation of illness or injury
  • Promote recovery
  • Provide pain relief
  • Protect the unconscious

First aid courses cover many areas with some going into more depth than others. But everything involved in a first aid course will hark back to these principles.

Preserving life is the priority of a first aider, and if you attend a course you will learn the vital skill of CPR. When cardiac arrest occurs, the brain can start to be damaged after 5 minutes, and the situation can become fatal after 8 minutes. This is why CPR in first aid is critical.

The importance of first aid and why it works

Different countries have their own health and safety rules but in the US there is no set ratio of first aiders per employee on-site, but at least one trained first aider must be present at all times.

In the UK, if a workplace has more than 5 employees then 1 trained first aider must be available. For every 50 more workers, 1 more first aider must be added to the roster.

One reason that first aid is important is that it provides immediate help to injured or sick persons. The emergency services are invaluable, but they take time to respond and on occasion, they can be overwhelmed. Being immediately available is just one reason why first aiders can be effective.

Why is first aid effective?

Knowing first aid means that if you witness an incident in the workplace, or in public, you will have the tools to be able to assist in some manner. A first aider can be the first response to any incident, and in many cases, a fast response is crucial.

The first principle is to save lives, but first aiders also provide comfort, stop bleeds, and provide basic but essential treatment. They can also prevent the escalation of an injury and future complications.

Individuals will take time to recover from a serious injury but first aiders can help to reduce the possibility of complications and aid recovery.

What will a first aid course cover?

There are different first aid courses to meet different people’s objectives. Many first aid courses are based around the workplace, but other courses are there to teach people how to use emergency first aid for different circumstances.

Online, blended, and in-person first aid courses are available, and these can take from a few hours to 3 days. After passing the course, you would normally be certified for 2 to 3 years, but refresher training is often recommended.

The skills you will learn can vary from course to course, but are likely to involve some or all of the following.

  • Cuts and abrasions
  • Allergic reactions
  • Poisoning
  • Seizures
  • CPR
  • Broken bones and fractures
  • Applying bandages
  • Choking
  • Splints
  • Shock
  • Strokes
  • Heart attacks
  • Unconsciousness

You would learn how to care for wounds and stop bleeding. How to deal with someone choking, and how to treat someone unconscious. Treating seizures is another vital skill. Around 50 million people have epilepsy but seizures can occur due to several other factors too.


The origins of first aid may be over 900 years old but the basic principles of saving lives and treating the injured are still there. Modern first aid has been proven time and time again to be a vital skill that everyone should learn.

Being able to treat a person in distress immediately can reduce pain, help with their recovery, and – in some circumstances – save their life.