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The Health and Safety Executive?s (HSE) Approved Code of Practice and guidance on the Health and Safety (First-aid) Regulations 1981 states that the provision of first-aid at work does not include giving tablets or medicines to treat illnesses.

The Guidance also states that tablets and medicines should not be kept in workplace first-aid containers.

However, there is no legislation preventing employers making over-the-counter medicines, such as paracetamol for the treatment of headaches, available to staff by, for example, placing them in the care of a responsible person or making them available in vending machines.

For its part the HSE says that it has no objections to paracetamol being made available in the workplace in vending machines. However, it recommends that, if first aiders are responsible for issuing these tablets, they should have a reasonable understanding of what is involved, while employers should bear in mind that there is a potential for litigation against them if first aiders are asked to administer medications, even if trained to do so.

Under medicines legislation, medicines such as paracetamol can be sold or supplied from vending machines at work. However, the product must be pre-packed and the machines should be situated in premises which the occupier can lock to prevent members of the public gaining access to them.

Medicines sold or supplied from a vending machine must also comply with any legal restrictions on pack sizes. In the case of paracetamol, products containing this substance (up to a maximum strength of 500 milligrams), must be presented for sale in a package or container which does not exceed 16 tablets.

In addition, the law covering the sale of medicines means that the sale or supply of more than 100 tablets at any one time is restricted to prescription control by a doctor. Therefore, employers who provide vending machines for the sale of paracetamol must ensure that an individual cannot pay for and obtain more than 100 tablets in a single transaction.

Further information on the installation of vending machines for medicines at work can be found on the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency?s website at: www.mhra.gov.uk.


Safety Management; February 2004; p52

For further information contact the British Safety Council