Life Saving First Aid

Level 2 – Hands-on: Moderately simple.

1. Assess and secure the area:

The first rule of emergency aid is DO NOT put yourself or others in danger- you cannot help someone if you become a casualty yourself. When approaching a casualty the first thing to do is use your eyes to assess what has happened and take a moment to think and calm yourself down. Check to see if there is still danger around (e.g. live electricity or oncoming traffic) and if there is a way to remove the danger before continuing. NEVER put yourself at risk.

2. Keep the casualty where found if possible:

Unless the casualty is up and moving around you will not know if their neck and spine have been injured or if they have other injuries that could be made worse by movement. If there is no option but to move the casualty out of the path of danger, get help to drag them to safety whilst keeping them as still as possible and with someone supporting their head and neck. Helmets should be left on unless it is absolutely necessary to remove it because you think they may have stopped breathing. If you need to remove the helmet, you will need the help of at least 2 people to keep the head as still as possible.

3. Check the casualty’s alertness:

Call out to the casualty with a simple question such as ‘can you hear me?’ or ‘Can you open your eyes?’ to assess if they are awake. They may be dazed or confused so if they do not answer look for them opening their eyes or other signs of movement. If there is no response gently shake their shoulders whilst repeating the questions. If they respond leave them in the same position and fetch help or call 999.

If there is still no response shout for help and assess the casualty to see if they need resuscitation by following the ABC.

4. ABC:

This stands for Airway Breathing and Circulation and these are your key priorities when treating any casualty. First, check the casualty’s airway- if someone has a blocked airway they will be unable to breathe and will die if help isn’t given.

  • Open their mouth and look to see if there is any obvious obstruction. DO NOT poke around in their mouth if there is nothing visible or easily removed. Keep their mouth (and therefore their airway) open and check to see if they are breathing by the look, listen and feel method. Lean over the casualty so you can put your ear close over their mouth and your face looking down their body;
  • Look– to see if you can see their chest rising and falling as they breathe
  • Listen– to hear any breaths
  • Feel– for breath coming from their mouth or nose.
  • Do this for 10 seconds.

5. Get help:

When you have established whether or not they are breathing send for help immediately. If you have other people with you send someone to call 999 whilst you continue with resuscitation. If you are alone call for help immediately and then return to the casualty.

6. Resuscitation:

If the casualty is breathing on their own, place them in the recovery position now (see below). If they are not breathing begin CPR. This stands for cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and can help buy precious time until the emergency services arrive.

CPR means using chest compressions and rescue breaths to get oxygen into the body and pump it around the circulation. The correct way to do CPR can be learnt at first aid courses where you will be taught the correct positioning and how to check for signs that you are doing it effectively.


The recovery position

If the casualty is unconscious but breathing on their own and have no other life-threatening injuries they should be placed in the recovery position.

    • Lie the casualty on their back with their legs out straight and kneel beside them.
    • Open their airway by putting 2 fingers under their chin to lift it and tilt their head back (Fig.1).


  • Make sure there are no sharp or large objects in their pockets.
  • Bend up the leg furthest away from you and hold it just above the knee with one hand whilst your other hand brings the far arm across their body to the near side of their face, palm facing outwards (Fig.2).
  • Roll them over towards you using the bent leg so that they are lying on their side with their hand supporting their head.
  • Make sure their airway is still open.
  • Adjust their leg as necessary so that it is bent at right angles, keeping them propped in a secure position (Fig.3). Check that their lower arm is not trapped underneath them.


This position will keep them comfortable and still whilst you wait for help to arrive and will prevent them from blocking their airway with their tongue or choking on vomit.
Whilst these instructions provide basic knowledge they are not a replacement for proper first aid training or emergency medical help. To get help should always be your priority.

Learn more and build your confidence

A hand-on approach is by far the best way to learn life saving first aid skills and St John’s Ambulance run courses around the UK that will teach you everything from the basics of minor injuries to the correct way to perform CPR. You can search for a course near you on the St John’s Ambulance website.

Laura Stewart

Laura Stewart

I am a qualified doctor and a freelance writer specialising in making science and medicine accessible to everyone. I have written for diverse audiences, from medical professionals reading international journals to the general public in newsletters and online, and have given talks about medical subjects and related research. In addition to health topics, I also write about outdoor sports and fitness and am a member of the Trail Running Association. website

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