First aid is an incredibly important skill to learn. At any given place or time anyone can find themselves in a situation where an accident has taken place and medical attention is required.
A survey conducted in 2021 revealed that out of 2,150 adults across the UK, only 34% of these knew how to do chest compressions, 50% knew how to carry out rescue breathing and 38% stated that they have never been given any kind of training for safety delivering CPR.
First aid training can be undertaken by anyone and gives all participants the skills they might need to be able to save a life. This kind of training may come in handy in a wide range of environments and is now often taught in schools and certain workplaces to ensure that more and more people know what to do in basic medical emergencies.
The acronym ‘DRSABC’ is used within first aid to help assess a situation and gives guidance as to how to deal with discovering someone hurt or unwell. It is important to note that DRSABC does not replace first aid, but is a system that should be used as part of first aid response.
This article aims to help give a better understanding of DRSABC, what it is, why it is important and how it works hand in hand with first aid.
First aid refers to the immediate assistance given to someone that needs medical attention, from minor injuries to serious complications. It aims to prevent conditions from worsening, promote healing and preserve the life of the person affected, often with the aim of keeping the situation stable until proper help arrives.
First aiders have carried out training that gives them the knowledge and skills to deal with a range of medical scenarios, including choking, bleeding and unconsciousness. Anyone who is trained in first aid will probably hold a valid certification in any of the following:
In some occupations, first aid training is a mandatory requirement. For example, paramedics and nurses need a high level of training in first aid, whilst first aiders in office environments will often only need basic training.
It is also important for anyone else who is first aid trained to keep up with their training regularly. After undertaking a first aid course, you are often required to refresh your training and learn any new skills that are deemed relevant as medical knowledge advances over the years.
Certifications in first aid last for 3 years in the UK, after which time the person will need to undergo further first aid training, which will then give them an additional 3 years as a qualified first aider.
DRSABC is a primary survey that is used to help treat those who are in potentially life-threatening states or conditions. It’s one of the most important parts of first aid as it gives a framework for anyone to follow if they find themselves dealing with a medical emergency.
DRSABC stands for:
Send for help
Usually, DRSABC is used in conjunction with first aid and CPR to help someone who is in a critical condition. It can be used to assess the vitals of a person and helps give them a high chance of remaining stable until proper medical attention can be given.
This acronym is used across many different countries and is widely recognised.
DRSABC is a linear set of steps, which means you should go through each stage in turn from start to finish. By assessing all the different factors step by step, you are not only able to help someone in a critical situation, but also keep yourself safe.
Below, we explain each of the DRSABC steps and how to carry out each one.
The first step of DRSABC is to check for any danger. This could be any potential danger to yourself, bystanders or the patient.
When assessing the danger of a situation, you mustn't go over to the affected person until you are sure that it is safe to do so. If a citation is dangerous then this keeps you safe and prevents another casualty, as well as avoiding leaving you unable to help.
An example of potential danger would be if someone has become critically hurt as a result of the actions of someone else. If the perpetrator is still present, it is safest to keep your distance and wait for more help to arrive.
Another example could be if there has been a car accident and a victim is trapped in the car. Moving or touching them may cause additional harm if they have open wounds or broken bones, and you may become injured yourself if the car is potentially dangerous.
In any case where you need to help someone else, the danger of the situation should always be fully assessed. If there are any doubts as to whether or not it is safe to approach, it is always better to wait, call the emergency services or ask someone else to assist you.
If you have established that it is safe to approach someone injured or unwell, the next stage is to then check them for a response.
Checking for response begins by getting the person's attention and seeing if they respond. This can be done by calling their name, touching them or asking simple questions like their name, today’s date, how many fingers you are holding up and if they can feel when you touch them.
If you get a response, it might be helpful to also check with them about where their pain is and how to see how they are feeling. This is to assess the state they are in and gauge what might have happened and what help they may need, which will help you give a more detailed answer when speaking with the emergency services.
If the affected person does not respond, you must act quickly and move to the next stage as soon as possible.
After you have established a response or lack of, next you must send for help. This could be by calling the relevant emergency services, or by asking someone else to help you in doing so.
Where possible try to stay with the injured person so that they are not left alone. They may become disoriented and confused or try to move, which could put them in further danger.
The steps before sending for help are vital, as it is very likely that the operator will ask you questions about the patient, which you should have already gathered when checking for a response.
If you do not have access to a mobile phone or happen to be somewhere with little to no people around, you should first shout for help and see if anyone comes to offer aid. You should only leave an injured person to seek help if there are no other options, and try to return to them as soon as possible or keep them in sight.
The next three stages of DRSABC only apply if the affected person has not responded and appears to be unconscious. After you have called for help, check for a response again to be sure whether they can hear you.
By this point, there should either be someone else around to assist you and/or the emergency services should be on their way. The next step is to check and clear the person's airways.
You can check someone’s airways by visually assessing whether something is blocking their throat or nose that may be stopping them from breathing. You may need to get close to them and open their mouth to do this, which you should only do if you feel safe and comfortable.
If their airway appears blocked and you think you can safely remove this obstacle you can do so, but it is generally recommended that you wait for professional medical help in case you make a situation worse.
If there is nothing obviously obstructing someone’s airways then you should ensure that they remain open and clear. You can do this by lying the affected person on their back, taking two fingers and gently tipping their head upwards so their neck is straight and their position isn’t affecting their throat
Once you have cleared and/or opened someone's airways, the next stage is to check whether they are breathing. You can first do this with a visual assessment: is their chest moving up and down?
If this doesn’t make the situation clear, putting your ear to their nose and mouth will help you listen to their breathing better. If they are breathing, you should check whether it sounds even, rapid, shallow or obstructed. You can also check for breathing by putting your hand on the lower part of their chest and feeling for movement.
If the person is breathing but unconscious, the best course of action is to put them in the recovery position until help arrives. This prevents them from choking and keeps their airways clear, as well as stops them from rolling over and causing further problems.
Bear in mind that if someone is suffering from an obvious physical injury, you should avoid moving them into the recovery position as this may make the situation worse. This last step is really only for people that appear unharmed but unconscious.
To put someone in the recovery position, raise one of their hands in line with their head and put the other across their face so the back of their hand is against their cheek. Roll them towards the raised hand and move their top leg towards you so that they are secure and won’t roll back over. Check their airway again.
The last step of DRSABC is to commence CPR to start the person’s circulation.
When carrying out CPR, you are helping to save that person's life if their breathing or heart stops. This is an emergency procedure that helps to aid the heart in pumping blood to the rest of the body, increasing circulation.
To safely carry out CPR you must kneel next to the casualty, with the heel of your hand on the middle of their chest. Your other hand must be placed on top, with your fingers interlocking.
Your arms need to remain straight and you must press down hard on the person's chest with a depth of around 2-6cm before releasing again, which will allow the chest to come back up.
During CPR, the casualty may become responsive, opening their eyes, speaking or coughing. If this happens, put them in the recovery position and be prepared to start CPR if they decline in health again.
You should continue to give CPR until the emergency services arrive and take over. CPR can also be stopped if the person starts to show signs of recovery and can breathe normally.
Some people now add a ‘D’ on the end of DRSABC, which refers to a defibrillator.
If there is the option to use a defibrillator you can do so, as either the machine itself or the emergency service operator can talk you through how to use it.
The ‘C’ in this acronym stands for ‘circulation’ but also for ‘CPR’ which is what you are recommended to do if the person doesn’t appear to be breathing and you feel confident in delivering chest compressions.
If the person is not breathing, the first aider should start chest compressions. CPR will increase circulation to get the person to start breathing again.
The original acronym was DRSABC, however many training providers now add a ‘D’ added to the acronym which refers to defibrillation. Defibrillators are now much more widely available for the public to use in an emergency, so where necessary defibrillation can be used as soon as possible to restart someone’s heart.
The primary assessment in relation to first aid is what you do to quickly gauge what has happened in a situation, who has been hurt and what medical attention they might need. In order to carry the primary assessment out effectively, DRSABC is used to ensure that the correct steps are taken in the right order and that nothing vital is missed when trying to keep an injured or unwell person safe and stable.
Being able to use DRSABC in first aid is a very important tool, as it covers a wide range of things that help to ensure the safety of all parties involved. Whilst very few people have to put their first aid training to use in a real-life situation, remember DRSABC could help to keep someone alive until emergency services arrive and can properly treat them.
If you are interested in finding out more about DRSABC and first aid, click here to view our range of online first aid courses that are available.