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Large and small first aid kits used by the British Red Cross for event first aid, in the internationally recognized safety green with a white cross. These kits also feature the red cross, which is a protected symbol under the Geneva Conventions and may only be used by the Red Cross or military.
Large and small first aid kits used by the British Red Cross for event first aid, in the internationally recognized safety green with a white cross. These kits also feature the red cross, which is a protected symbol under the Geneva Conventions and may only be used by the Red Cross or military.

A first aid kit or medical kit is a collection of supplies and equipment used to give immediate medical treatment, primarily to treat injuries and other mild or moderate medical conditions. There is a wide variation in the contents of first aid kits based on the knowledge and experience of those putting it together, the differing first aid requirements of the area where it may be used, and variations in legislation or regulation in a given area.

The international standard for first aid kits is that they should be identified with the ISO graphical symbol for first aid (from ISO 7010), which is an equal white cross on a green background.[1]

Standard kits often come in durable plastic boxes, fabric pouches or in wall mounted cabinets. The type of container will vary depending on the purpose, and they range in size from wallet-sized through to a large box. It is recommended that all kits are kept in a clean dust- and damp-proof container[2] to keep the contents safe and aseptic.[3]

Kits should be checked regularly and restocked if any items are damaged or are out of date.


The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) sets a standard for first aid kits of being green, with a white cross, in order to make them easily recognizable to anyone requiring first aid.[1]

The ISO only endorses the use of the green background and white cross, and this has been adopted as a standard across many countries and regions, including the entire EU. First aid kits are sometimes marked (by an individual or organization) with a red cross on white background, but use of this symbol by anyone but the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) or associated agency is illegal under the terms of the First Geneva Convention, which designates the red cross as a protected symbol in all countries signatory to it. One of the few exceptions is in North America, where despite the passing of the First Geneva convention in 1864, and its ratification in the United States in 1881, Johnson & Johnson has used the red cross as a mark on its products since 1887 and registered the symbol as a U.S. trademark for medicinal and surgical plasters in 1905.[4]

Some first aid kits may also feature the Star of Life, normally associated with emergency medical services, but which are also used to indicate that the service using it can offer an appropriate point of care. Though not supported by the ISO, a white cross on red background is also widely recognized as a first aid symbol. However, for very small medical institutions and domestic purposes, the white cross on a plain green background is preferred.

Contents of first aid kits

A pocket mask in its case.
A pocket mask in its case.
Adhesive bandages are one of the most commonly used items in a first aid kit.
Adhesive bandages are one of the most commonly used items in a first aid kit.
Plastic tweezers
Plastic tweezers
Disposable gloves are often found in modern first-aid kits.
Disposable gloves are often found in modern first-aid kits.

Commercially available first aid kits available via normal retail routes have traditionally been intended for treatment of minor injuries only. Typical contents include adhesive bandages, regular strength pain medication, gauze and low grade disinfectant.

Specialized first aid kits are available for various regions, vehicles or activities, which may focus on specific risks or concerns related to the activity. For example, first aid kits sold through marine supply stores for use in watercraft may contain seasickness remedies.

Airway, breathing and circulation

First aid treats the ABCs as the foundation of good treatment. For this reason, most modern commercial first aid kits (although not necessarily those assembled at home) will contain a suitable infection barrier for performing artificial respiration as part of cardiopulmonary resuscitation, examples include:

Advanced first aid kits may also contain items such as:

Some first aid kits, specifically those used by event first aiders and emergency services, include bottled oxygen for resuscitation and therapy.

Common items

Common kits may contain:

Trauma injuries

Trauma injuries, such as bleeding, bone fractures or burns, are usually the main focus of most first aid kits, with items such as bandages and dressings being found in the vast majority of all kits.

Personal protective equipment

A waterproof Pelican first aid kit.
A waterproof Pelican first aid kit.

The use of personal protective equipment or PPE will vary by the kit, depending on its use and anticipated risk of infection. The adjuncts to artificial respiration are covered above, but other common infection control PPE includes:

Instruments and equipment


Medication can be a controversial addition to a first aid kit, especially if it is for use on members of the public. It is, however, common for personal or family first aid kits to contain certain medications. Dependent on scope of practice, the main types of medicine are life saving medications, which may be commonly found in first aid kits used by paid or assigned first aiders for members of the public or employees, painkillers, which are often found in personal kits, but may also be found in public provision and lastly symptomatic relief medicines, which are generally only found in personal kits.

Life saving

Pain killers

Symptomatic relief

Topical medications

Improvised uses

Besides the regular uses for first aid kits, they can be helpful in wilderness or survival situations. First aid kits can make up a part of a survival kit or a mini survival kit in addition to other tools.[6]

Workplace first aid kits

In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires all job sites and workplaces to make available first aid equipment for use by injured employees.[7] While providing regulations for some industries such as logging,[8] in general the regulation lacks specifics on the contents of the first aid kit. This is understandable, as the regulation covers every means of employment, and different jobs have different types of injuries and different first-aid requirements. However, in a non-mandatory section,[9] the OSHA regulations do refer to ANSI/ISEA Specification Z308.1[10] as the basis for the suggested minimum contents of a first aid kit. Another source for modern first aid kit information is United States Forest Service Specification 6170-6,[11] which specifies the contents of several different-sized kits, intended to serve groups of differing size.

In general, the type of first aid facilities required in a workplace are determined by many factors, such as:

Historic first aid kits

Travel pharmacy (early 20th century).
Travel pharmacy (early 20th century).

As the understanding of first aid and lifesaving measures has advanced, and the nature of public health risks has changed, the contents of first aid kits have changed to reflect prevailing understandings and conditions. For example, earlier US Federal specifications[12][13] for first aid kits included incision/suction-type snakebite kits and mercurochrome antiseptic. There are many historic components no longer used today, of course; some notable examples follow. As explained in the article on snakebite, the historic snakebite kit is no longer recommended. Mercurochrome was removed in 1998 by the US FDA from the generally recognized as safe category due to concerns over its mercury content. Another common item in early 20th century first aid kits, picric acid gauze for treating burns, is today considered a hazardous material due to its forming unstable and potentially explosive picrates when in contact with metal. Examples of modern additions include the CPR face shields and specific body-fluid barriers included in modern kits to assist in CPR and to help prevent the spread of bloodborne pathogens such as HIV.

See also


  1. ^ a b "ISO 7010 - E003". Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  2. ^ The Scout Association, Guidance on first aid kits, accessed 29 January 2022
  3. ^ a b First Aid Manual 8th Edition. St John Ambulance, St Andrews First Aid, British Red Cross. 2002. ISBN 0-7513-3704-8.
  4. ^ "USPTO record for Johnson & Johnson's Red Cross mark". Retrieved 6 May 2015.
  5. ^ "First aid kit: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2022-11-18.
  6. ^ "What Do You Need In A Survival Kit?". Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  7. ^ 29 CFR 1910.151 (1998-06-10). "Occupational Safety and Health Standards: Medical services and first aid". Retrieved 2006-08-28.
  8. ^ 29 CFR 1910.266 App A (1995-09-08). "Occupational Safety and Health Standards: First-aid Kits (Mandatory)". Retrieved 2006-08-28.
  9. ^ 29 CFR 1910.151 App A (2005-01-05). "Occupational Safety and Health Standards: Appendix A to § 1910.151 -- First aid kits (Non-Mandatory)". Retrieved 2006-08-28.
  10. ^ ANSI/ISEA (2009-05-12). "ANSI/ISEA Z308.1-2009, American National Standard - Minimum Requirements for Workplace First Aid Kits and Supplies". Archived from the original on 2010-11-11. Retrieved 2009-08-25.
  11. ^ U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service (2006-01-25). "6170-6H, Kits, First Aid" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-08-25.
  12. ^ GG-K-391A GAUZE (1954-10-19). "Kit (Empty) First-Aid, Burn-Treatment and Snake Bite, and Kit Contents (Unit-Type)". Archived from the original on 2011-07-22. Retrieved 2009-08-24.
  13. ^ GG-K-392 (1957-04-25). "Kit, First Aid (Commercial Types), and Kit Contents". Archived from the original on 2011-07-22. Retrieved 2009-08-24.