After an Accident, Should You Move an Injured Victim to Safety?
Some people’s first instinct when they see someone who has fallen from a height or who has been hit by a car is to run to them and move them to a safer location. It’s human nature to show compassion or feel the need to extend a hand to those who’ve been hurt or stuck in desperate situations. These are good emotions that inspire positive intentions.
However, there are certain situations where even good intentions can do more harm than good, especially if it involves an injured person.
Picking up someone who has been seriously injured can lead to severe damage or additional injury that can affect or complicate the person’s recovery. In some cases, moving the victim can lead to neck or spinal injuries that result in permanent paralysis, or even death. This is especially true in situations where the victim does not appear to be suffering from serious injuries, which are often invisible.
What Can You Do in an Emergency Situation?
So, when is it okay to move an injured person?
The general rule is: never. If at all possible, wait until trained first responders arrive.
If the person hasn’t incurred major injuries, they are likely able to move themselves to safety. If they are experiencing confusion, bleeding, or pain in the back, neck, or abdomen, it’s best to wait for responders.
It’s imperative to DIAL 911 IMMEDIATELY. The first thing you should do is to get help to arrive at the scene the soonest time possible. While you wait for emergency responders, you can help the victim by gettingthem to stay calm.
Before approaching the injured individual, make sure it is safe to enter the area. Don’t run the risk of harming or injuring yourself by rushing into an unsafe situation in an attempt to help someone else.
Once you are sure that the area is safe, here are things you can do to help the victim stay still:
- Assure them that you will be closely by until a trained emergency responder arrives.
- Calmly explain to them what has happened.
- Tell them that it’s important to remain still, so they don’t cause further injury to themselves.
What if the Victim is in an Unsafe Area?
Some situations will require you to break the rule of thumb. This is when the situation in the environment changes and you see an immediate need to move the injured person to safety.
Here are questions to ask when weighing whether to move the victim:
- Did you receive directions from an emergency personnel (a medical technician, firefighter, or nurse) to move the victim?
- Will the victim face more danger if they remain where they are? For instance, is the victim in the middle of a busy road or in a burning building?Is the person likely to suffer from lack of oxygen? Is the place at risk for explosion? Is the structure the victim is in about to collapse?
- Is the victim in an area that’s off limits to emergency responders? This is when, for example, the injured person is in a radioactive area where it can take so long to set responders up for access, that it could be life-threatening.
- Is it impossible to receive help in the injured person’s current location? Is the victim, for example, lying unconscious inside a vessel where an extraction harness is necessary to move the person out to where first aid is available?
- Is moving the victim necessary to be able to provide proper care? This is when, for instance, the injured person needs to be moved from a couch onto a flat and firm surface before you can perform CPR.
- Do you need to attend to another victim with more severe injuries or to attend to someone who needs immediate care?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, proceed to move the victim with great caution.
What is the Proper Way to Move an Injured Person?
If time permits,stabilize and splint the injured or fractured parts of the victim’s body before moving them. You may need to use a piece of your own clothing or that of the victim. If the need to move is immediate and there are no clothing pieces that can be used, use whatever is on hand.
If possible, find a stiff board (in the absence of a medical backboard) and place it underneath the injured person. Have a second person maintain the neutral position of the neck of the victim.
When a splint or medical backboard is unavailable, try not to twist or bend the person as you move them. If the person is lying on the ground, grab the part of their shirt behind their neck. Use your forearms to cradle the person’s head. Keep a straight line when dragging them to a safe location.
If the victim is too large for you to carry or move, grasp them by the ankles and drag them in a straight line. If they have neck or back pain, make sure to keep their spine and neck as flat and straight as possible to prevent further injury.
To safely get the victim onto a backboard (or a hard, sturdy surface, like a wooden board), “log-roll” the person to keep their neck stable. This technique involves rolling the person from back to side (the goal is to not flex the victim’s spinal column) so you can slip the backboard under the patient. Then, roll the person in the other direction. Before performing a log-roll, seek help from three or four other people. One person should hold the victim’s head and neck straight, while the others provide assistance in rolling the person’s body onto the wood.
To perform a successful log-roll, the person by the head counts to three. All at the same time, theresponders roll the victim to their side (toward the responders)to keep thepatient’s head aligned with the body. After the victim has been successfully moved to a hard surface, the person at the head counts to three again so the responders can roll the person onto their back.
When accidents happen, we sometimes find ourselves in a position where we feel uncertain about whether to intervene or not. If this happens, remember the general rule: do not attempt to move the victim. If someone who isn’t a trained emergency responder insists that you move an injured person,weigh your decisions carefully, asthey’re likely to act on impulse in response to the stressful situation. Instead of proceeding with moving the patient, consider the other emergency measures that you can perform while help is on the way.