So you’re the only person around to administer first aid at the scene of a road accident, what do you do? Is it best to leave the person until emergency services arrive, or should you leap in and have a go at helping anyone who’s been injured?
Clearly, if you have some training in first aid then you will be the person to deal with the accident but what if you have no experience? What if you injure the casualty?
Will you be prosecuted? These could be some of the questions you are likely to ask yourself should such a situation arise. There’s no law to say that if you’re involved in a roadside accident or are a bystander that you must administer roadside first aid but this does not mean that it’s OK to leave an injured person who you know is in danger. In fact if you do, you may be liable through your omission to act.
If you are not happy to give someone first aid treatment, maybe you faint at the sight of blood? Then there are still things you can do to help.
- Call 999 or get someone else to do it if it’s an emergency.
- Make the area safe – further collisions and fire are among the main hazards when there’s a road accident but there could be broken glass, or spilt oil to look out for too.
- If you are in a car you need to switch off your engine and turn on your hazard lights to warn oncoming traffic.
- Don’t let anyone in the area smoke.
- Monitor the casualty and/or find out what happened.
- Do not allow the casualty to wander around at the scene in case they walk into the path of other traffic.
- Try to maintain the victim’s body temperature (e.g. by keeping them warm or shaded).
- Protect the casualty from severe weather conditions.
- Comfort the casualty. Reassure them confidently and try not to leave them alone.
- Try to make them comfortable – but only if you do not suspect they have any spinal injuries.
- Don’t move any casualties from vehicles unless they are in serious threat of further danger.
- Do not remove a motor cyclist’s helmet unless it’s an absolute necessity.
- Never give the casualty anything to eat or drink.
You can also, if qualified to do so, check the casualty for:
- Responsiveness (signs of life).
- Breathing difficulties.
- Severe bleeding wounds (e.g. arterial).
- Spinal injuries.
If you are in a position to provide emergency care you can follow the following procedure:
Ensure that you are not in danger.
Try to get a response from the person by giving their shoulder a gentle shake and asking whether they are alright. If they respond, check for injuries.
If there’s no response, open the casualty’s airway by placing your fingers under their chin and lifting it forward. If the casualty is unconscious and breathing, place them in the recovery position until medical help arrives
Check that the casualty is breathing normally. You should be able to see their chest moving, feel the breath on your cheek or hear them breathing. If there are no signs of breathing you can start CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation – a life saving medical procedure which is given to someone who is in cardiac arrest).
Always carry a first aid kit. It’s not something you might ever believe you’d need but it could save a life. Also first aid is an excellent skill to have. You can get first aid training from a qualified organisation such as St John Ambulance, St Andrew’s First Aid, British Red Cross, or any suitable, qualified body.
Am I liable if I injure a casualty?
You could be liable for substantial damages if your intervention was considered negligent and caused an injury that the casualty hadn’t sustained in the accident.
This doesn’t just apply to someone who has no training and decides to step in, it is also the case whether you are a healthcare professional, or a non-professional volunteer first-aider.
For example, if you gave chest compressions in a situation where a casualty was not in cardiac arrest and your actions caused damage to the chest wall or underlying organs, you would be causing injuries which would not otherwise have been suffered and, given that the casualty was not in need of emergency resuscitation, would by this intervention be leaving them in a worse state.
If, however, you performed CPR on someone who was in cardiac arrest and the person would without your intervention almost certainly die then it’s unlikely your actions would be deemed negligent.
There’s also an issue of consent because under UK law any form of physical touch without consent could be interpreted as common assault. This is something to keep in mind although if you touched a casualty who was in need of first aid but was unable to give their consent it would be unlikely to lead to a conviction. Imagine for example if you held the hand of a casualty to reassure them, without first gaining consent, it would be a nonsense to charge them with assault however, a conviction could be made if the first aider were to use any form of force against the casualty to administer treatment.
A lot rests on the severity of injuries for example, if the person you’re attending to is unconscious and therefore unable to consent – or maybe they had refused consent and then became unconscious – you are allowed to undertake treatment that is only required for the purpose of saving life. You are not permitted to undertake non-life threatening treatment, such as treating minor injuries. Under the Mental Capacity Act (2005) (2) a person is presumed to have the mental capacity to make their own decisions unless proved otherwise.
If you want to know more about the law and roadside accidents please get in touch with us at the link below and we will be happy to help.