First Aid: Responding Confidently to Accidents

Author: Hannes Rügheimer

Oct 11, 2023 Safety at work / Safety on the road

Whether it happens in traffic or at work – anyone who comes upon the scene of an accident is obliged to provide first aid. But even though almost everyone knows this, many people hesitate and do not see themselves in a position to provide first aid. The proper preparation and a comprehensible checklist can help.

In a survey conducted by the German Automobile Association ADAC in 2021, only just over half of respondents (52 percent) answered that they felt truly confident about providing first aid at the scene of an accident. A quarter were unsure and another quarter said they would be unable to do so.
And this self-assessment was by no means wrong. In the same survey, only around 55 percent of respondents were able to correctly answer a catalog of first aid test questions. The survey also showed that the longer it had been since the last first aid course, the greater the uncertainty.
It is hardly any different at the European level: The Austrian automobile club ÖAMTC conducted a similar study in 14 European countries back in 2013. The results were similarly sobering. When it comes to knowing what really needs to be done, the average across Europe was a meager 15 percent. Outside Europe, the situation is unlikely to be much better.
In Europe, however, it is a fact that no one can be held legally responsible for mistakes made when giving first aid.
In which order do I proceed?
As the name suggests, first responders are the first link in the so-called rescue chain. Whoever arrives first at the scene of an accident must help. The purpose of these “immediate life-saving measures” is to bridge the time until professional help arrives.
To avoid panicking, endangering yourself or accident victims, as well as making unnecessary mistakes, it helps to proceed in a structured manner and to follow these step-by-step instructions:
Self-protection comes first: Under no circumstances should you put yourself in danger. Consider your actions carefully, even under time pressure.
Secure the accident site: Set up a warning triangle, switch on your own vehicle’s hazard lights, and put on a high-visibility vest.
Rescue the accident victim from the danger zone (if safe to do so): Switch off the accident vehicle’s ignition, free the accident victim from the vehicle, and protect them from moving traffic.
Check consciousness: Speak to the accident victim, check their breathing and, if necessary, gently shake their shoulders. In the case of bikers, if possible, carefully remove their helmet (with assistance from a second person to stabilize the cervical spine, if possible). Talk to them in a calm, comforting manner.
Make an emergency call (Europe-wide: 112): If possible, involve bystanders, and delegate tasks. Important information: Where did the accident occur? What happened? How many people are injured? What type of injuries? Stay on the phone until the rescue center ends the call.
Most important first aid measures: Cooperate and/or take turns with other helpers as necessary.
  • If breathing is weak or absent altogether, chest compressions: Press firmly and quickly 30 times with crossed hands in the center of the chest, about 5 cm deep. Breathe 2x for 1 second into the mouth or nose.
  • Stop bleeding: if necessary, apply pressure dressing or germ-free compress. Beware of tourniquets – they can cause major injuries with permanent consequences.
  • Prevent shock: If victim is conscious and breathing normally, elevate legs, cover up, and comfort them. Caution: This does not apply to heart attacks or injuries to the head, chest, or spine.
  • Recovery position: When the victim is unconscious but breathing normally.
First and foremost, however, despite all the worry about doing something wrong, it is much worse to do nothing. Of course, it is important for the victim to be treated quickly and correctly – but as already emphasized in the beginning: In Europe, no one has to fear legal consequences if they make mistakes when providing first aid. This is in strong contrast to failure to render assistance, which in most EU countries can result in a severe custodial sentence or fine.
Regulations on first aid equipment in European countries
The exact regulations regarding first aid kits and other mandatory equipment vary from country to country. In some countries, the regulations only apply to vehicles registered there; in others, they apply to every car on public roads. However, EU legislation stipulates that a first aid kit that meets the legal requirements in the vehicle’s home country also meets the corresponding requirements in all other EU countries – even if local standards and norms for equipment differ slightly.
Vehicles registered in Belgium must carry a first aid kit and also a fire extinguisher, as well as a safety vest for the driver.
A first aid kit is mandatory for vehicles registered in Germany. The DIN 13164 standard defines exactly what it must contain. A safety vest is also mandatory for each passenger.
A first aid kit is mandatory for vehicles driving on Greek roads – safety vests, however, are not.
A first aid kit is also mandatory in Croatia, as well as a safety vest for each person exiting the vehicle on a highway or expressway.
First aid equipment is mandatory for vehicles registered in Austria, and must be kept in a dust-tight box (referred to as a “Autoapotheke” or “car pharmacy”). In addition, the Austrian legislation requires a safety vest for the driver of the vehicle.
All vehicles traveling on Serbian roads must be equipped with a first aid kit. In addition, the legislation there requires that a safety vest for the driver and a tow rope be on board.
First aid equipment and a safety vest for the driver are also mandatory for vehicles driving on public roads in Slovakia.
Vehicles registered in Slovenia must carry first aid equipment, one safety vest per vehicle occupant, a fire extinguisher, and also spare light bulbs.
Czech Republic
Vehicles traveling on Czech roads must be carrying first aid equipment and one safety vest per passenger.
A first aid kit and two safety vests are mandatory equipment in every vehicle.
In Hungary, too, a first aid kit and a safety vest are mandatory for each occupant of the vehicle.
Denmark, France, Finland, Luxembourg, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Spain
In these countries, neither first aid equipment nor a first aid kit are required by law. However, it is recommended to carry them in the vehicle.