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Before help arrives – what you can do

When you arrive on the scene of an accident, you need a clear plan of action. Otherwise, it's easy to panic.

Your first priority is to make sure that you and the injured people will be safe from any other hazards. Check the area for anything that could pose a danger to you or others, such as a downed power line or oncoming traffic, and avoid it.

Next, see if there's anyone on the scene who can help. If so, get them to call 9-1-1 while you do the rest of the steps. Get anyone with first aid training to help you take care of the injured people.

Then, quickly figure out which of the injured people to help first. Check each person briefly to see if they respond to you (ask them if they're OK and try gently tapping them), and whether their injuries are life-threatening. Taking a basic first aid course will help you learn how to assess which injuries should be treated first and how to deal with them. Basically, people with no pulse, those who aren't breathing, or those with severe bleeding should be treated first.

Now take care of the ABCs:


  • Check to see if the person's airway, the breathing tube from their mouth to their lungs, is open. If they're talking or breathing, the airway is open. If not, the airway could be blocked.
  • To open the airway, clear out any objects that may be in the mouth. Then, tilt the head backwards with one hand on the forehead and the other under the chin. Try a rescue breath (see "CPR") and see if the chest inflates. If not, the airway is still blocked, and you may need to do the Heimlich manoeuvre (see "Helping someone who is choking").


  • "Look, listen, and feel" to see if the person is breathing. Put your ear near their mouth to listen and feel for the breath, and watch their chest to see if it rises and falls. If not, start CPR if you are trained to do so (see "CPR").


  • Check to see if the person's heart is beating. Feel for a pulse on the inside of the wrist or the side of the neck. Check for visible bleeding. If bleeding is present, stop it by applying pressure and elevating the bleeding area so it is above the heart.
  • If there is no pulse, start CPR if you are trained to do so (see "CPR").

The ABCs can all be life-threatening if not treated. Learning CPR through an accredited first aid course could help you save a life.

If no one has already done so, call 9-1-1. Be prepared to describe your location, what happened, how many people are injured and how badly, and what you've done so far. Follow their instructions on what to do next. Stay on the phone until they tell you it's okay to hang up.

Safety note: You may be at risk of contracting diseases such as HIV, hepatitis B, or hepatitis C from an injured person's blood. You may wish to use latex gloves and a CPR mask to protect yourself. You may want to purchase these products and keep one in your bag or in the car so you'll be prepared wherever you go.

*Please note that this health feature is intended to provide a general overview of what to do at an accident scene. It is not intended as a substitute for proper training through a certified first aid course. If you are interested in providing first aid, please contact your local St. John Ambulance, Life Saving Society, or Red Cross to enroll in a first aid course.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2024. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source:

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