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First Aid Guide for Bystanders

Find out more about first aid and help beat the bystander effect.

Understanding first aid is important as it can give you the confidence you need to step in when an accident occurs. Accidents can happen in any place at any time, and research shows that a large number of us need to brush up on our first aid skills. Having even a basic level of first aid knowledge promotes a safer environment for us all and helps people feel secure. Our step by step First Aid Guide for Bystanders covers key areas of first aid including…

  • Understanding the DR ABC process
  • How to give chest compressions
  • How to put someone in the recovery position

The techniques mentioned in this guide are designed for adults and may not be suitable for children.

First Aid Guide

Virtual College advocate dialling the emergency services before attempting any form of first aid.

1 in 3 image

Wouldn’t feel confident administering first aid.

28.5% image

Wouldn’t feel confident administering first aid on a child, 27% wouldn’t feel confident administering first aid to a stranger.

Understanding the DR ABC process

If you are at the scene of an incident where a casualty appears to be seriously injured or unconscious, then you should begin first aid by using the DR ABC process.


Identify and neutralise dangers, for example moving traffic and live electrical cables.


Check for a response by speaking, shouting and tapping the casualty. If the casualty is unresponsive then move on to stage 3 of the DR ABC process immediately.


Check that the casualty’s airways are clear. The most common problem here is the tongue can block the top of the throat, so move the casualty’s head to make sure they can breathe. If the casualty is responsive then help them to clear their own airway if needed.


Check for breathing by placing your ear close to the casualty’s mouth and nose whilst looking for the rise and fall of their chest. Do this for 10 seconds, and based on the fact that normal breathing happens at a rate of about 12-20 times per minute you should hear at least two breaths.


Next, start chest compressions immediately. This keeps oxygenated blood flowing through the body so that if resuscitation is successful, the risk of brain or organ damage is reduced. Any delay or interruption to chest compressions will reduce the person’s chance of survival.

You should give 30 compressions for every two rescue breaths. These should be kept at a regular pace with no more than a 10 second break between compressions to give rescue breaths.

Learn how to save lives

The First Aid Primary Survey course provided by Virtual College in partnership with First Response Training, covers key areas of first aid to help you gain vital knowledge that could one day enable you to save a life. The course will teach you:

  • To know what to do if you are on the scene of an accident
  • How to assess the situation as a potential danger zone
  • The steps of the DR ABC process: Danger, Response, Airways, Breathing, Circulation
  • What is meant by the AVPU scale (Alert, Voice, Pain and Unresponsive)
  • The importance of the recovery position and how to apply it
Life saving class

Interesting facts about first aid

Mobile phone

Brits considered their main distractions to be when they were in a rush (27.5%) and using a mobile phone or tablet (21%).


Only 15% of people would feel confident giving CPR in an emergency situation.

No first aid

38.9% of people said the strongest reason for not wanting to administer first aid was that they feared they would do it wrong and make things worse.

Heart Pulse

60% of deaths could be prevented by people having basic first aid training. (Source here)

How to give chest compressions

Chest compressions are the first step in CPR and should be used when a casualty is unresponsive and not breathing adequately. Chest compressions are a crucial step in first aid before medical help arrives; when used on their own they are known as hands-only CPR.

Chest compressions

Where to push

Push on the centre of the person’s chest, on the lower part of their breastbone.

Chest compressions

Hand positioning

Good hand positioning is important; place the heel of one hand on the lower part of the breastbone with the other on top, interlocking your fingers.

Chest compressions

Depth of compression

Position yourself vertically over the person, keeping your arms straight. Press down to a depth of 5-6 cm, releasing the pressure after each push.

Chest compressions


Give compressions at the rate of 100-120 per minute or two per second: melodies such as stayin’ alive by the Bee Gees help keep the pace. Don't forget that each compression requires a release of equal time.

Chest compressions

When to stop

If you are doing rescue breaths stop after 30 seconds to carry them out. If not, don’t stop compressions until either professional help arrives, the person regains consciousness AND is breathing normally, or you are completely exhausted.

How to put someone in the recovery position

The primary function of the recovery position is to prevent any obstruction of the airway. If a casualty has a spinal injury or is suffering from cardiac arrest then a different technique will be required. The recovery position should be used on an unconscious but breathing person, if the casualty is not breathing then 999 should be called immediately and you should begin CPR.

Recovery position step 1

Step 1

If the person is wearing glasses, remove them. Kneel beside the person. Make sure both of their legs are straight. Place the arm nearest to you out at a right angle to their body, elbow bent with the palm-up.

Recovery position step 2

Step 2

Bring the person’s arm across their chest and hold the back of their hand against their cheek.

Recovery position step 3

Step 3

With your other hand, pull up their far leg into a right angle at the knee, keeping the foot on the ground. Keeping their hand pressed against their cheek, pull on the bent knee to roll the person towards their side.

Recovery position step 4

Step 4

Adjust the upper leg so that both the hip and the knee are bent at right angles. Tilt the head back to make sure that the airway remains open. Adjust the hand under the cheek to keep the head tilted downwards to allow any liquid to drain from the mouth. If the person is in the recovery position for more than 30 minutes, turn them to their other side to relieve pressure on the lower arm.

500,000 children need to go to A&E annually after accidents in the home.

500,000 children need to go to A&E annually after accidents in the home. (Source here)

1 in 10 people admitted they wouldn’t know what to do in an accident where a person had collapsed, after calling 999.

1 in 10 people admitted that, after calling 999, they wouldn’t know what to do in an accident in which a person had collapsed.

Want to know more about first aid training?

With Virtual College you can learn at your own pace and there is 24 hour support available to all of our learners. Our first aid training course is suitable for anyone looking to learn first aid skills or refresh their current knowledge. No previous experience or qualifications are needed to take the course. The First Aid Primary Survey course is designed for anyone who could find themselves at the scene of an accident, this includes environments such as the workplace and home.

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