The last thing anyone wants when attempting first aid is to get punched, kicked or spat on when you are trying to help. Despite your good intentions the risk to yourself can be high as you enter an often volatile situation where emotions, injuries, drugs and alcohol or adrenaline can cause others to react in ways that may be out of character, even for people you know.

It is never OK to be a victim of an assault and none of the information provided in this blog is intended to blame the victim or try and say that you caused yourself to be assaulted. Instead, the hints are designed to protect the first aider from harm and focus our attention on the number one consideration when providing first aid - DANGER.

Being attacked by a person is an obvious sign of DANGER, however there a number of warning signs and tips before the attack takes place that could prevent the assault happening in the first place and lessen the chance of you requiring first aid.

Warning signs that suggest you are about to be attacked:

  • Entering your personal space – standing over you, chest/shoulder bumping.
  • Displaying signs of mental illness – depending on the illness a person in mental distress could view you as a threat even though you are there to help.
  • Drugs and Alcohol.
  • Isolating you – “come here and say it” or slowly moving you away from a crowd (your friends).
  • Telling you – Being told you are about to be punched should be considered a real threat.
  • Non-verbal preparation – signs may include clenched fist, puffing out chest, removing clothing, and aggressive facial expression.

There are a number of ways you can limit the risk to yourself and other bystanders:

Assess and then constantly reassess the DANGER: After an initial assessment of an incident you may deem the situation safe to assist. We know that situations are constantly changing and risks can increase or decrease e.g. family members of the victim arrive on scene, the offenders return, an unconscious drug or alcohol affected person wakes up, weapons are presented all change your initial assessment and require you to reassess the risk and determine whether you should retreat.  

Obtain consent to conduct first aid: Consent from an injured or ill person, or their carer, or the parent/legal guardian of a minor, must be obtained before providing assistance (unless the casualty is unconscious, where consent is implied).

Legal action and damages may be taken against you if you act without obtaining consent.

Adults are entitled to refuse treatment even if it is life-sustaining. Parents or legal guardians of minors, or those with a disability, can likewise refuse treatment but only if in the best interests of their child. Australia Resuscitation Guideline 10.5 provides further information on these subjects.

Verbal communication: Constantly telling a person you are here to help them and telling them what you are about to do and repeatedly requesting consent is a good habit especially if you believe a person is affected by drugs or alcohol. Using a de-escalation tone in your voice can prevent further escalation to the incident. Avoid threatening the person you are trying to assist even though they may be verbally threatening you.   

Positioning: If you are conducting first aid with another person you can position yourself so that you are looking behind each other’s backs. Often friends of victims can mistakenly think you are or have assaulted the person on the ground you are coming to the aid of and might assault you believing they are protecting their friend. Asking bystanders to look out for your safety is a good idea.

Calling the police: In dangerous situations when requesting an Ambulance, also request police attendance.

If they don’t want your help don’t help leave it for the experts: Even though your desire to help is great, knowing when to walk away, even when a person appears to have suffered an injury can be the most appropriate option if you have a genuine fear of being seriously assaulted. Assistance can be provided at a later time if the person’s symptoms deteriorate.

The duty of care required of first aider is best summarised by what a reasonable person would do in the same circumstances.  No two situations are the same, but upon threat of being assaulted by a much bigger person, asking them if you can assist and calling for an Ambulance and/or police can sometimes be the safest and best option for you as a first aider.

Weapons: Look for weapons and more importantly ask the person if they have any needles, knives or other weapons on them or nearby. You will be surprised how often the person tells you. Similarly, constantly watch for the person fidgeting in their pockets, reaching in bags/pants/beside seats in vehicles – they might have a weapon. 

Self-defence: Different states have different laws when it comes to defending yourself, however a useful guide is that when you are being assaulted, you may use reasonable force against the person to defend yourself and protect yourself from harm.

Tactical withdrawal (Running away): You might not be aware but one of the Allen Family sayings is “he who runs away - lives to fight another day” and you should never be ashamed to have run away to protect yourself or your children from being assaulted. Always remember when you go to assist that often your family members will be with you and can also be assaulted if you get attacked.  

The tips provided here are not exhaustive and many of you have higher levels of training and backgrounds in policing, security, martial arts or come from the University of Hard Knocks.

We are happy to hear your tips on the Allens Training Facebook page as we believe the more information we can share the safer we all will be when providing First Aid.  Stay safe. 

To book your next Sunshine Coast First Aid Training Course please visit our training calendar and select your preferred date.

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