First Aid for truck drivers: Driver’s Education

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Few of us head for work thinking, “Geez, what if something nasty happened to me today? Would I know how to handle it?” The truth is most of us live in pretty comfortable routines. We seldom stop to consider the “what-ifs”.

But consider how many car and truck crashes happen every day, how many workers are injured on the job, and how many truck drivers are stranded when their trucks break down.

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This training scenario demonstrates the proper technique for moving a casualty with a suspected head, back or neck injury. This for the professional. Do not attempt to move victims if such injuries are suspected. Further and sometimes permanent injury could result. (Photo: Jim Park)

What would you do if you slipped on fuel tank steps, then fell to the ground and broke an arm at 2 a.m. in a northern Ontario snowplow turnout, halfway between Longlac and Beardmore? Would you know how to splint that broken arm so you could at least drive to a medical facility? If you were first on the scene at a messy car wreck on a remote highway, would you know how to staunch a bleeding head wound?

Basic First Aid training is not required for truck drivers in Canada or the United States, but it can be useful.

First on the scene

Knowing what to do makes you a far more valuable responder.

Because professional drivers are on the road so much, it’s likely they will someday be the first person to arrive at a crash scene.

“Actions taken early in the process can affect the outcome of the incident and indeed save lives and possibly prevent subsequent crashes,” says Red Cross-affiliated First Aid instructor/trainer Robyn Daust. She offers the following suggestions for approaching and dealing with a crash scene.

Step 1: Survey the scene. If possible, position the truck to protect the scene — as long as doing so won’t cause traffic problems or possibly trigger another collision. Don your personal protective equipment such as gloves, mask, and a safety vest before surveying the scene, too.

The key, despite some heroic dispositions, is self-preservation. Venturing into situations that could cause you personal injury isn’t a good idea.

First responders are taught a mnemonic to remember what to look for here: fire, wire, gas, glass, and traffic.

Look for downed electrical wires, leaking fuel, or other sources of fire. Next, beware of broken glass or other items around the site that could cause injury, such as jagged pieces of metal, before approaching the vehicles.

Step 2: Take stock of the situation. How many vehicles or people are involved? Is everyone involved accounted for? Someone could have been ejected from a car. Look in the back and front seats of every involved vehicle.

Determine who is conscious and who’s bleeding. Then estimate the extent and severity of the injuries. And do this before calling 911 because the operator will be asking questions about the scene.

“Be as precise as possible in describing the location, noting mile markers, exit numbers, geographic features, etc.,” she suggests. “Accurate answers can improve the response. You can also ask bystanders to help with traffic control, rounding up blankets, finding stuff for splints, etc., or helping directly with the scene if they are willing and capable.”

Step 3: Comfort or treat the casualties. Treat what appear to be the most serious injuries first. If a person is unconscious and not breathing, you may have to perform CPR if you are trained.

Unless a risk of a fire or some other imminent threat exists, don’t remove seriously injured people from their vehicle. There may have spinal, neck, head, or internal injuries that may be compounded by moving the person.

Bleeding can be controlled by applying pressure directly to the wound. Often the person can do that themselves. You may also enlist the help of bystanders to help if any are willing.

Blood loss and the trauma of a crash can also trigger a condition known as shock. This is brought on by the sudden drop in blood flow through the body, reducing the flow of oxygen to the organs. And left untreated, this can lead to permanent organ damage or even death.

Symptoms of shock vary, but include cool, clammy skin, a bluish tinge to lips or fingernails (or grey in the case of dark complexions), rapid pulse, rapid breathing, enlarged pupils, dizziness or fainting, and more. The best approach is to keep the person warm, avoid moving them, do not let them eat or drink, and watch for vomiting, lest they choke on the vomit.

In cold temperatures, hypothermia is another concern. Do what you can to cover the casualties to keep them warm.   

“If you have no First Aid training, your actions may be limited here to keeping the casualties warm and as comfortable as possible,” Daust says. “Keep talking to them to keep them alert and calm, reassuring that help is on the way. If you are trained and comfortable with First Aid, you can be a more effective first responder.”

Personal injuries

Truck drivers also spend a great deal of time alone, away from coworkers and others, and nasty stuff can happen at inopportune moments.

Let’s say you fall from the truck and cut yourself, or break a bone when there’s nobody around to help. Or you suffer a mild heart attack or stroke.

Knowing what to do next can really improve your chances of positive outcome.

“The best solution to excessive bleeding is to apply direct pressure to the wound, if possible using a clean absorbent material, such as gauze pad or even a T-shirt,” advises Heather Lindey, an advanced First Aid instructor and instructor-trainer affiliated with several training organizations.

“Head wounds tend to bleed profusely and so may not be as serious as they appear. However, there’s always the risk of concussion following a head injury, so don’t dismiss it. Get follow-up treatment.”

Broken bones are best just immobilized so further movement at the point of the break doesn’t damage surrounding tissues. Don’t attempt to move or reset the bone. Just maintain its position. In the case of an arm, hold it firmly against your body or support it with a sling made from rags, shirts, or bandages. With a broken leg, splint it if possible, using any firm material such as a tree branch, and try to avoid moving it.     

“Be aware that following any fairly serious injury, you too may be subject to shock,” she suggests. “Learn to recognizes the symptoms and take the appropriate steps for self-care.”

Instructor Robyn Daust instructs a pre-Covid class in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR), part of an advanced First Aid course. (Photo: Jim Park)

Treating heart attacks

Two of the most serious risks to aging workers, like truck drivers, is the risk of heart attack or stroke. The first response to the onset of symptoms is often denial. Take any symptoms seriously.

The Canadian Red Cross offers the following signs of an impending heart attack, but not all sufferers will experience the same symptoms.

  • Squeezing chest pain
  • Problems breathing
  • Abdominal or back pain (more common in women)
  • Cold, sweaty skin
  • Skin that is bluish or paler than normal
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Denial
  • Jaw pain

For some, the first sign may be sudden cardiac arrest.

The more signs and symptoms you have, the greater the chance you are indeed having a heart attack. Some experience warning signs and symptoms hours, days, or weeks in advance.

The earliest warning might be recurrent chest pain or pressure (angina) that’s triggered by activity and relieved by rest. Angina is caused by a temporary decrease in blood flow to the heart. Learn more about the warning signs and symptoms and take them seriously.

Identifying strokes

Strokes are different from heart attacks and occur when a blood clot or a ruptured vessel cuts off blood flow to your brain. Men and women can experience different signs and symptoms.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada has developed a quick three-point triage called FAST. These are the most common signs of stroke, and they are signs that are more likely to be caused by stroke than any other condition.

  • Face – Is it drooping?
  • Arms – Can you raise both arms?
  • Speech – Is it slurred or jumbled?
  • Time – Call 9-1-1 right away.

Additional but less common signs of stroke include:

  • Vision changes – blurred or double vision
  • Sudden severe headache – usually accompanied by some of the other signs
  • Numbness – usually on one side of the body
  • Problems with balance

Even if you don’t experience the complete suite of symptoms, waste no time in calling 9-1-1.

Not everyone will experience all the signs of stroke. And during a stroke, every minute counts. Immediate treatment can lessen potential brain damage.

If emergency medical services are available, wait for the ambulance rather than attempting to drive to a hospital. The first responders can initiate treatment as soon as they arrive.

Heart & Stroke offers this video simulation of a stroke. It’s worth watching.

None of the information here should be taken as medical advice. Our intent is really to illustrate the importance and the value of having some basic knowledge of First Aid. Courses are offered all over Canada by organizations like the Canadian Red Cross, St. John Ambulance, Perri-Med, and others.

Some of the online training is for self-study. The more-advanced training can be in a classroom setting.

When you consider what could be at stake, First Aid training seems like a pretty good investment.  

  • Driver’s Education is an ongoing series of articles that focuses on things drivers need to know, but may not have learned during entry-level driver training.
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Jim Park was a CDL driver and owner-operator from 1978 until 1998, when he began his second career as a trucking journalist. During that career transition, he hosted an overnight radio show on a Hamilton, Ontario radio station and later went on to anchor the trucking news in SiriusXM's Road Dog Trucking channel. Jim is a regular contributor to Today's Trucking and, and produces Focus On and On the Spot test drive videos.

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