How we tested
Our tester checked the items included in each kit and awarded different scores based on:
Full compliance with the standard (including provision of an inventory and instructions, rust resistance for scissors and forceps, and adequate stretching for bandages); or fulfilling the function but not having the required number or size of items; partially meeting the function; or items were absent, or failed to meet the function.
The tester awarded scores for the inclusion of an inventory and basic first aid information.
For the rust test, she put the washed and rinsed scissors and forceps in plastic containers lined with wet cotton wool, and checked them for rust after one week.
To determine whether bandages would stretch to at least twice their length, she placed clamps on each of the bandages one metre apart, stretching them to capacity before comparing their stretched length to their unstretched length recorded earlier.
Both First Aid International kits had some items missing, such as scissors, forceps and other items. We don’t know whether they’d never been included or had gone astray before they were sold. In a shop, look for tamper-proof packaging to ensure no items have been removed or swapped. If a kit isn't sealed, items can go walkabout. When you buy a kit online, check its contents against the inventory on the receipt.
Members of the NRMA or RACV receive a 15% discount when purchasing a St John first aid kit, after showing their card.
Putting together your own kit
If you're not inclined to buy a first aid kit, you can make your own. Any container is suitable as long as it’s resealable, waterproof and gives you good access when open. You don’t want to waste time rummaging through the contents when you need a bandage fast.
Your kit should contain painkillers, antiseptic creams, insect treatment and the like. Check the use-by dates regularly and update the contents as necessary.
Five common emergencies
Dealing with common emergencies
We also assessed the kits to see whether they’d cope with five common emergencies:
stopping a major bleed
treating a serious burn
giving first aid to someone with a fractured limb
handling a foreign body in a wound or an eye
treating an insect or snake bite.
Our thanks go to the Australian Red Cross and St John Ambulance Australia, for their advice on what you’d need for these emergencies.
Thirteen of the 22 kits passed this test, containing at least the necessary minimum equipment or equivalent. Nine failed, but three of them did so only because they lacked an insect bite/sting relief treatment or cold pack. This was a common omission, lacking in eight kits, but given that you can easily buy bite/sting relief cream, we didn’t think it was as bad a failure as some of the others.
All kits had items to help users cope with major bleeding, with at least one combination dressing (which includes a pad and bandage) or separate wound dressing pads and a bandage. However, three kits (Ambulance Victoria, St John Small Emergency and Tyco Healthcare) failed to include even a single non-adherent dressing, which you’d need — together with a stretch bandage — to give adequate first-aid treatment for a serious burn.
Saline or an equivalent is needed to clean and remove foreign bodies from eyes, wounds and burns. Four kits (the Australian Red Cross Personal Kit, Tyco Healthcare, Trafalgar Home Kit and Equip Family First Aid Kit) failed to include it.
The Equip kit also lacked a triangular bandage, which you’d need to use as a sling for a fractured limb.
Standard being ignored
We tested all 22 kits against Australian standard AS 2675-1983 (Kit B, general-purpose kits).
This is a voluntary standard, and while many kits’ contents are obviously based on it, none fully complied with it. In fact, only one kit included all the items that are essential to provide first aid in an emergency, according to the standard: the Australian Red Cross Household Kit. However, not even in this top-scoring kit were all items sized as specified in the standard.
Some kits were really just basic ‘personal’ kits, which are generally cheaper and less comprehensive than ‘general purpose’ kits. However, we’ve included them in this test because they were often described as for ‘general purpose’, a label that’s obviously used to cover a wide range of kits.
Some kits didn’t come close to meeting the standard. They lacked, for example, the non-adherent dressing you’d need to cover a serious burn, or a triangular bandage to use with a fractured limb. Others had the correct items you’d need in an emergency but not enough of them, or in sizes different from those specified in the standard: fewer gauze swabs, different-sized bandages, or bandages that won’t stretch enough to do a proper job.
Even basic but essential items were missing from many kits, such as:
a pencil and notepad
tissues or a hand towel
plastic bags and
And things weren’t much better with regard to optional items. These items were also often missing from (or inadequately provided by) kits:
- An emergency foil blanket
- alcohol swabs
- saline and
- insect bite treatment
Last, but not least, we checked the provision of information in the kits according to the standard. After all, what’s the use of having the correct equipment if you’ve no idea what to do, or how to use certain things? Two kits provided no first aid instructions, and eight no inventory of what they contained. Only seven had an inventory and explanatory notes on how to use each item.
Given such obvious disregard by the first aid industry for the detail in the standard, we think it’s in urgent need of an update to make it seem relevant again.
The standard is adequately comprehensive with regard to major emergencies, but doesn’t mention basic infection control items, such as gloves and a resuscitation mask or shield. All but one of the 22 kits in our test contained disposable gloves, but only 10 had a resuscitation mask or shield.
What to look for
With these contents (based on AS 2675-1983, Kit B) in your ‘general purpose’ first aid kit, you should be equipped for a range of emergency situations.
At least nine sterile, cotton-gauze swabs, for cleaning wounds and placing over non-adherent burn dressings.
At least three disposable hand towels or tissues, for general cleaning, other than wounds.
24 sterile, adhesive dressing strips in assorted widths, to cover small cuts, blisters and abrasions.
One roll of low-allergenic adhesive strapping, at least 25mm wide x 2.5m long, to hold dressings in place.
Two sterile, individually packed, non-adhesive dry dressings, 100 x 100mm, to use for burns, abrasions, cuts, lacerations and weeping wounds.
Three sterile wound dressings of different sizes, to protect wounds, use as an eyepad, or help control bleeding by applying pressure.
Three rolls of stretch bandage, 50, 75 an 100mm wide and at least 1.5m long (and stretchable to twice that length), to hold dressings in place, support injured limbs or give first aid for poisonous bites.
Two triangular calico bandages with at least 900 mm edge length each, to use as slings or dressings, or as bandages to hold large dressings or splints in place.
At least five safety pins about 40mm long, to hold bandages in place.
One pair of rust-resistant scissors about 100mm long, with at least one blunt point, to cut dressings and bandages, or to cut away clothing.
One pair of rust-resistant, pointed forceps, with accurately aligned tips and in a protective case, for removing splinters and stings.
One pencil and notepad, to record times and details or for passing messages.
At least three sealable plastic bags, about 150 x 200mm, for carrying water, making ice packs, disposing of dirty dressings or carrying severed body parts.
Disposable latex gloves and an approved resuscitation mask, for infection control.
First aid information — books are available from St John Ambulance Australia, the Australian Red Cross and other expert ambulance services.
At least six individually wrapped isopropyl alcohol swabs, for cleaning areas around wounds.
One sterile, thick and absorbent ‘combine’ dressing, 90 x 200mm, to cover wounds.
One plastic squeeze-bottle of saline solution, about 100mL, clearly labelled with usage instructions and expiry date, to clean eyes, wounds and burns.
One aluminium foil blanket, to keep a casualty warm.
Sting relief treatment, 10mL minimum, clearly labelled with its purpose and expiry date, to relieve discomfort from stings or bites.
Hydrogel burn treatment, to treat burns if no cool water is available.