It’s a common question for us first aid trainers – “If I come across a motorbike accident should I remove the rider’s helmet before starting first aid?”
It’s a good question. The answer is not simple.
First of all, it depends on what type of helmet the person is wearing. And it helps to have an understanding of what you are trying to do to help someone with first aid.
The concern with motorbike accidents is always with neck and back injuries. (Generally, the helmet protects the head but the neck is another story.) So, most people worry that if they remove someone’s helmet, they might damage the rider’s neck. This is a genuine concern, but sometimes other factors override this concern.
It all gets down to one thing – is the patient conscious and breathing? If they are and they can speak with you, then the best thing to do is leave their helmet on if you don’t know the state of their head, neck or shoulder injuries. As long as they remain conscious and breathing, then leave the helmet on. (If they fall unconscious or stop breathing, then the following applies.)
If the patient is unconscious and not breathing then breathing and their airways take priority over everything else. If not breathing they will need urgent CPR and that is very hard to do with a motorbike helmet on. However, if they have an older style open face helmet which only covers their head but leaves their face and particularly their mouth, nose and throat open and exposed then you don’t have to remove the helmet for CPR.
But if they are wearing what is called a “full-face” helmet where the helmet extends right around their chin, covering their mouth, then you must remove it to check their airways and breathing and to commence CPR.
The simple rule for helmet removal is roll the person gently onto their back (which is the position you will need them in for CPR anyway.) If you can get another person to hold their head and neck still while you undo or cut the chin strap, then slowly slide the helmet straight off their head, remembering to gently tilt the helmet back towards the ground to ensure it comes off over their nose.
Once the helmet is off you would immediately start on CPR. If you suspect neck or spine injuries in the patient, then apply standard first aid training protocols for them in that situation.
Remember to keep the helmet with the patient as the ambulance crew will want to check it for signs of impact injury. Note: some helmets have “red tags” on the side that you can pull to remove the cheek guards to make helmet removal easier.
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