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How long is first aid valid for?

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Doing first aid training will provide you with potentially some of the most valuable skills you’ll ever have. Not only does it better equip you to treat minor injuries for yourself and those around you, but it equips you with skills that could potentially save a life in a medical emergency. But although the value of doing the training is fairly obvious, one question many of us don’t normally think to ask is “how long is first aid valid”?

It might seem strange to many of us that first aid training might have a use-by date. But the reality is that there are good reasons that the same medical professionals who set the standards for first aid training in Australia also recommend participants do the training again after a set period of time.

So how long IS a certificate in first aid valid? Who decides how often we need to do it, and why?

Why does first aid training go out of date?

We might think of skills we gained at school or in tertiary training (Uni, TAFE, or a trade apprenticeship) and wonder why that training is regarded as valid for a lifetime, while first aid training quickly goes out of date. In reality, it’s not that the skills we’ve learned stop being effective after a few years. There are other reasons why the experts recommend periodic first aid refresher courses.

Some of the main reasons are…

  • Infrequent use – One of the tricky things about First Aid skills is that they’re not often put into practice, particularly for treating more severe injuries. Knowing how to treat a severe burn is a valuable skill. However, the reality is that a standard office workplace might only see three burn injuries in a given decade, with none of them being all that serious. Skills that aren’t frequently used can get rusty quickly unless the person makes an effort to brush up their skills from time to time.

  • Vital skills – It’s not often that our proficiency with a given skill will literally be a matter of life and death. First aid skills are the exception to this, with lives sometimes hanging in the balance. So it might be fine to forget some of the details of how tax law works for accountants or how to format the date in Excel, as you can look those things up easily enough. But first aid skills can be needed suddenly, urgently, and without warning. Revising your first aid skills every few years gives you far better odds that the knowledge will be fresh in your mind.

  • Standards evolve with the Research – It might seem odd for first aid standards to change, but the reality is that medical research is going on all the time. Each year we learn more about the best way to do first aid. Some of these lessons come from dedicated research, but others come from seeing first aid procedures in practice and seeing what does and doesn’t work – there’s a lot you can learn from statistics. For example, the number of CPR breaths and chest compressions to give you the best odds of survival has been revised repeatedly as the science behind it has improved.

  • Things change – The reality is that circumstances change and that changes how we do first aid. For example, in recent years defibrillators have gone from a specialised tool for medical professionals to a widely available piece of first aid equipment that anyone can use. And first aid training has evolved to accommodate this. Recent times have also seen the world’s social landscape re-written by the Covid 19 pandemic – which also shifted the guidelines for how we care for the sick and injured.

These things mean it’s essential to treat first aid training as an ongoing learning process rather than just a one-off training seminar.

Who decides when first aid certificates go out of date?

The standards for how often people should do first aid training are set out by the Australian Resuscitation Council (ARC). This is a body of expert medical professionals from Australia and New Zealand who teach and practice resuscitation. They’re some of the best-qualified people in either country to be making those decisions.

These standards aren’t laws – they’re guidelines, published as a recommendation by the ARC. But most professional bodies and RTOs recognise the ARC knows what they’re talking about and treats those guidelines as official requirements.

How long is a first aid certificate valid for?

The ARC recommends renewing your training certificates every three years to keep your first aid valid. This is true of most government-defined first aid training courses, including HLTAID011 Provide First Aid, the standard first aid training course.

The exception to this is the CPR training course – HLTAID009 Provide cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The ARC recommends you renew this training every 12 months to remain current. This module is actually a component of most first aid training – including HLTAID011 Provide First Aid. But fortunately, you can take the CPR component of the training as a stand-alone unit, so you don’t need to do a full first aid course every year just for that component.

Are the standards different in other countries?

A little. Different countries have different standards for training courses, and there can be variations in how long specific training remains valid. For example, in the UK, the “Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support” course is valid for two years, while “Basic First Aid and CPR” is valid for three. But in most cases, three years is the longest time that any first aid training will remain current.

How do I check if my first aid is valid?

The easy way is to check your paperwork. First aid certificates will almost always have an expiry date printed on them, so it’s clear how long they remain current. This is one of many reasons to keep your certificate somewhere safe. Some RTO’s (including FirstAidPro) will allow you to download and print your certificate through an online portal.

If your certificate has gone missing somewhere, you can contact the registered training organisation (RTO) that trained you. They should be able to provide you with the date you did the training and the expiry date. It might also be a good idea to get another certificate issued while you’re talking to them.

A good habit to get into when you receive first aid certification is to enter the expiry date into your digital calendar – so you’ll get a reminder when it’s due, and you can check how far away that date is.

Are my older qualifications still current?

If you’ve done first aid training in the past, you may or may not be aware that the standards have recently changed – so for example, the HLTAID011 Provide First Aid course has now replaced the older HLTAID003 course. If you’ve completed one of the older qualifications, it’s sensible to ask “is my certificate in first aid valid at this point?”

The good news is, yes – any of the previous Australian government standard training courses are still officially current until their expiry date. So although most RTOs will now be offering the new courses (HLTAID011 rather than HLTAID003, for example), your current certificate is still usable.

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