First aid

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NOTE: This information is NOT a substitute for first aid training.  

Bushwalkers and ski tourers can obtain and maintain first aid skills by undertaking appropropriate periodic first aid training.

Bushwalkers should have a good, practical knowledge of first aid. A recognised basic first-aid course is a good start.

Providing first aid in remote areas can be more demanding in the event of a serious injury as 

distance, terrain, weather conditions and access can make it difficult for help to arrive.

Some examples of common first aid that may be required when bushwalking include:

  • Blisters on feet
  • Burns
  • Insect bites and stings

Less common, more serious incidents that require a sound level of first aid knowledge include:

  • Hypothermia and hyperthermia
  • Injuries from a fall, including bruises, strains and fractures
  • Snakebite

First aid training

Many bushwalking clubs and some state peak bodies organise first aid training courses for bushwalkers for their members and may subsidise the cost.

Some training organisations can provide a first aid course tailored for bushwalking and ski touring if a group booking is made.

Wilderness first aid training is available for remote areas trips.

Basic Life Support Flow Chart – DRSABCD

The basic life support flow chart specifies actions to take when providing first aid is referred to as

D R S A B C D  

These steps are crucial for a patient who has a serious injury or illness.  

  • DANGER – Check for Dangers
  • RESPONSE – Check Response
  • SEND – Send for for help
  • AIRWAY – Clear and open the Airway 
  • BREATHING – Check for normal Breathing
  • COMPRESSION  – If trained, give required chest compressions and rescue breaths
  • DEFIBRILLATE – Automatic External Defibrillator (AED). Most unlikely to be available on a bushwalk.

A first aid course will explain and provide essential training and practice of the actions taken for each of the above topics.

Providing first aid

When first aid is needed for an ill or injured group member, a person with first aid training should take control of providing first aid to them until they are either recovered or medical aid has been obtained.

First aid and other support tasks can be delegated to other group members (e.g. calling emergency services or keeping a history (log) of the patient’s condition).

Do not attempt to move or carry an injured person, except when necessary to get them to a safe location and sufficient people to assist are available. Moving an injured person is very difficult and can cause further injuries.

Send for assistance

If the injury is serious, call emergency services to request medical assistance promptly.

Recording first aid care

The first aid care provided to a sick or injured person should be recorded to: 

  • Monitor and track the patient’s condition
  • Provide medical personnel with relevant information about the patient and treatment provided.

Written records should be clear, concise and factual, observations. This information should be provided to medical professionals when requested and otherwise be kept confidential.

Caring for an ill or injured person

Care provided for an ill or injured person until help arrives should include: 

  • Prevention of further injury or aggravation of existing injuries
  • Protection from weather
  • Providing maximum comfort possible – regulate their temperature and provide ground insulation if needed
  • Providing adequate food and water as appropriate
  • Providing assistance with personal hygiene 
  • Providing companionship and reassurance.
  • Explaining what actions are being taken

Aim to care for the whole person, not just the injury.

Group actions

The leader can delegate roles and tasks to other experienced members and should avoid trying to do everything. Allow time to think; “hasten slowly” and consult other experienced members.

Group members can provide the following assistance:

  • Caring for the ill or injured person (as above)
  • Recording first aid care
  • Ensure other group members are safe and together
  • Put up tents/shelter for warmth or shade
  • Get a stove or fire going for a hot drink in cooler weather
  • Collect water
  • Contact emergency services. Send for help sooner rather than later

See also: Response to an accident or other emergency (Safety essentials) 

Administering medication to others

Only medically qualified people are legally able to administer medication to others.  

  • Prescription medicines must only be taken or used by the person for whom they were prescribed
  • Assisting others to self-administer their own medication or appropriate over-the-counter preparations is considered acceptable if the person asks for assistance
  • Check whether the person has taken the preparation previously and whether they have any allergies before allowing or assisting them to use medication
  • Check whether medication is being taken in accordance with directions
  • Check what other medications or drugs the person may be taking at the same time.

Personal first-aid kit

Bushwalkers should carry a personal first aid kit in a waterproof bag or container. Standard first aid kits are available from bushwalking and other retail shops.  Additional items can be added to meet individual needs. 

Examples of items for a basic first aid kit for bushwalking, as specified by the Royal Doctor Flying Service (May 2020):

  • First aid booklet
  • Triangular bandages – non-elastic bandages used for slings, to hold splints in place and to restrict movement.
  • Crepe (‘conforming’ or elastic) bandages of varying widths – these elastic bandages are used to create pressure, hold dressings in place, reduce swelling and provide some support.
  • Non-adhesive (non-stick) dressings of varying sizes – best used for covering burnt or abraded (scraped or grazed) skin.
  • Disposable gloves (medium and large), preferably made of non-latex material
  • Thermal blanket – can be used when a patient is suffering from shock
  • Adhesive tape (2.5 cm wide – preferably a permeable tape such as Micropore)
    Resuscitation mask or face shield
  • Medium combine dressing pads (9 x 20 cm) – used to help control bleeding and reduce the risk of infection.
  • Large combine dressing pads (20 x 20 cm) – used to help control bleeding and reduce the risk of infection.
  • Adhesive dressing strips (bandaids) – used for minor cuts and skin injuries. Never use adhesive dressings on burnt or abraded skin.
  • Medium gauze dressing (7.5 x 7.5 cm)
  • Four sterile tubes of saline solution (minimum 10 ml) – to flush out eyelashes, dust, sand or similar particles from the eye.
  • One pair of scissors
  • One pair of tweezers
  • Plastic bags of varying sizes
  • Hand sanitiser
  • Notepad and pencil

Note: First aid kit contents need to be regularly checked and kept up to date.

Personal medications should be carried in a separate container, clearly labelled with the drug name, circumstances indicating use, dosage, any possible reactions and expiry date.

A General Practitioner (GP) can provide advice for individuals on and prescriptions for specific medicine that is desirable to carry on trips to remote areas.

This might include an epipen, anti-allergy medications, prescribed antibiotics to treat infection and anti diarrhea medication.

Group first aid kit

For extended trips to remote areas a group first aid kit can be taken for bulky items that can be shared, e.g. triangular bandages, first aid booklet, resuscitation mask or face shield.

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