Workplace first aid training options – what are voluntary aid societies?

It is an employer’s responsibility to ensure that there is suitable first aid coverage at their place of business in case the worst happens, and an employee or site visitor needs emergency lifesaving support. For the vast majority of businesses, training members of staff in workplace first aid so that they can be a qualified first aider is the most sensible option.  

However, when it comes to selecting a first aid at work training provider, things can get complicated. Searching queries such as first aid at work course near me will likely result in dozens upon dozens of websites and adverts, all offering first aid training of varying standards. It can be difficult to know which training provider is the most suitable for your business needs or who is accrediting their training course. Indeed, in the worst case, you may find yourself paying a lot of money for a course that does not live up to your expectations or does not provide the qualification you need your workplace first aider to have. 

One sure sign of good quality is a first aid training course run by one of the UK’s Voluntary Aid Societies (VAS). In this blog post, we’ll take a look at why booking your workplace training with a voluntary aid society is a really good idea, and the advantages they have over other training providers that may be vying for your business. 

St John Ambulance Cymru is one of the UK’s Voluntary Aid Societies, and we also run a range of workplace first aid courses, so you can be 100% confident in booking your training with us. 

First aid at work training providers – what does the HSE say? 

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) is Britain's national regulator for workplace health and safety, of which first aid is a crucial component, and it is an independent regulator. One of the key pieces of legislation that the HSE enforces is the Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981 require employers to “provide adequate and appropriate equipment, facilities and personnel to ensure their employees receive immediate attention if they are injured or taken ill at work”. 

The HSE also provides important guidance to employees on how to select a suitable first aid training provider.  

Before we go any further, there’s one important thing to be aware of. The HSE used to offer an approval service for organisations that provide first aid at work training, and these organisations could refer to themselves as 'Approved' by HSE to deliver First Aid at Work. However, the HSE discontinued this policy after 1st October 2013. Therefore, any first aid training company that claims to be approved by the HSE is not stating the truth, as this no longer exists. The HSE also doesn’t run its own courses, so if you are receiving your training from a company that claims to be the HSE, then this will be fraudulent, and you should report it as soon as possible.  

When it comes to workplace first aid training, the HSE lists five types of training providers: 

  • Voluntary Aid Societies. 

  • Training providers accredited via a regulated awarding organisation (AO). 

  • Training providers that operate under a voluntary accreditation scheme. 

  • Training providers that operate outside any accreditation scheme. 

  • In-house training provided in your own business. 

What is a Voluntary Aid Society? 

When it comes to selecting a voluntary aid society as your workplace first aid training provider, you can rest assured that you will be receiving the highest quality training available to your staff available on the market. 

The UK voluntary aid societies are St John Ambulance, St Andrew’s First Aid, and the British Red Cross. St John Ambulance has separate representation for the four UK nations, and St John Ambulance Cymru is the charity’s body for Wales. The other components are St John Ambulance England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. 

Voluntary Aid Societies are not-for-profit organisations independent of the government and typically raise funds through donations, fundraising and grants. They are known for providing assistance to individuals and communities in need, and work towards addressing important social, health and humanitarian needs. They are also well known for being volunteer-driven and play a critical role in filling gaps which the emergency services don’t have the capacity to cover.  

One of the key services that the Voluntary Aid Societies provide is first aid training to a range of levels, from community training and basic skills to first aid at work and complementary skills for those already working in healthcare and care industries. 

Why are Voluntary Aid Providers the best choice for first aid training? 

Firstly, it’s useful to know that St John Ambulance Cymru and all the other VAS meet the minimum standards for a first aid training provider as set out by the HSE in its “Selecting a first-aid training provider: A guide for employers document. The five key standards are: 

  • The trainers have suitable qualifications. 

  • There are quality assurance systems in place. 

  • Teaches to the level of currently accepted first aid practice. 

  • The teaching syllabus matches what the HSE sets out as what needs to be taught. 

  • A certificate is issued upon course completion. 

When researching first aid at work training courses, training providers will be certain to say that their training fulfills all HSE requirements and that their training is done according to HSE guidelines. In a way, VAS are similar. The difference is that the VAS actually advise the HSE on what first aid training standards should look like. 

This means that when it comes to first aid standards in the UK, the HSE looks to the voluntary aid societies for guidance on what this looks like. Therefore, a workplace first aid course taught by a voluntary aid society is considered the standard-setter for what first aid training should look like. 

When being taught by a VAS, you can also be assured that you are receiving the most up to date first aid science and information. The voluntary aid societies together co-author the annual First Aid Manual. The First Aid Manual, currently in its 11th edition, is considered the authoritative guide on initial care and treatment. Not only does the HSE take guidance from this, but this book is also used as the official training manual for the UK's leading first aid organisations' courses. 

The Voluntary Aid Societies are also members of the First Aid Quality Partnership (FAQP). The FAQP is a a First Aid industry body which ensured the maintenance and improvement of first aid training and qualification quality standards across the UK. The FAQP publishes quality assurance standards that should be followed by all training providers, and these standards are also observed by the HSE. This means that any first aid training you receive a qualification for will have to meet the standards set by the VAS.  

If we now look back to those first five standards as set out by the HSE, we can now see the St John Ambulance Cymru and the other Voluntary Aid Societies are the standard setters for these requirements. 


There are hundreds of first aid at work training providers for you to choose from, and it can be a daunting process to narrow down which is the best for your business and employees. That said, selecting a Voluntary Aid Society such as St John Ambulance Cymru will take all the hassle away from you.  

Voluntary Aid Societies set the standards for first aid practice in the UK, and their advise is followed by the most relevant and important health and safety and first aid qualification bodies in the UK. Therefore, you can rest assured that a workplace first aid training course from a VAS will fulfill all the requirements your business has when it comes to first aid. 

Please do give St John Ambulance Cymru a ring on 0345 678 5646 or send us an email to discuss our first aid training options. We offer a 3-Day First Aid at Work and 1-Day Emergency First Aid at Work course, as well as many more covering first aid, H&S, and mental health

Published August 15th 2023

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