10 Life Saving Skills Everyone Should Know

Nothing scares us more than being faced with a situation where someone is seriously sick or injured. Knowing how to react in such a situation and taking the right steps, can have a large impact on the recovery of the person needing help. We asked our partner HEALTHY AND SAFE AWAY FROM HOME to write a post for us on the topic of first aid skills and they came back explaining that we have to differentiate between life saving skills and first aid skills. So here is their first post (of two), starting with life saving skills.

Essentially, we differentiate between life saving skills and first aid skills. Life saving measures do exactly that, they can save a person’s life. As bystanders, or first aiders, this is our top aim, our priority. This leads to one conclusion: EVERYONE should know life saving skills (and refresh them regularly).

Here are the ten most important skills everyone should know.

1. Know Your Emergency Numbers

It can be difficult to decide whether you should call an ambulance or your paediatrician or family doctor but with either number you will get professional medical help.

Regardless of how long you’ve been in Switzerland or how long you are staying, make sure you are familiar with our host country’s emergency system.

Ambulance     144
Fire brigade    118
Police             117
European Emergency number   112

You can also dial the European Emergency Number in Switzerland. It will work in all Swiss cantons. It just varies who you talk to: in many cantons you will speak to the Kantonspolizei, including in Zurich, whereas in Bern all calls to 112, 117 and 118 are handled by one call centre, the police. Canton Thurgau and Solothurn are the most advanced canton: all emergency numbers are handled by one dispatch centre each. For canton Aargau this is planned from mid 2017.

In many areas in Switzerland, you can also call a paediatric advisory number if the situation your child is in does not require an ambulance but you “only” need professional advice. Familiarise yourself with these local numbers, your paediatrician will help. In ski resorts, there are also local emergency numbers. For example, Davos Klosters has different local rescue service numbers for the different ski areas, from Madrisa, Parsenn, Jakobshorn and all the others. Familiarise yourself with such local numbers when you are travelling.

2. Know your Assessment Steps – Drs ABC

When you are a first aider, a bystander helping an injured or ill person, you need to follow certain steps to be able to assess both the situation the casualty and you are in and to decide what steps need to be taken.

The steps to follow are called Drs ABC:
D = Check for Danger
R = Check for Response
S = Shout for help: ask a bystander to assist you, bring you a first aid kit, call an ambulance or any other help you may need
A = Open Airway
B = Check for Breathing
C = 1.) Call ambulance (if needed, as in unconsciousness or in cardiac arrest) or 2.) Start CPR if needed or 3.) Give Care as needed

3. What to Do if a Person falls Unconscious

Unconsciousness occurs when a person suddenly becomes unable to respond to stimuli and appears to be “asleep”, they are unresponsive. A person may be unconscious for a few seconds (fainting) or for longer periods of time.

People who become unconscious don’t respond to loud sounds or gentle shaking. They may even stop breathing. This means fast first aid steps are needed. Remember, the earlier an unconscious person receives appropriate first aid, the better the outcome will be.

If you see an unconscious person, follow these simple steps:

  • Check whether the person is breathing by gently tilting their head back. If the person is not breathing, tell a bystander to call an ambulance immediately (tell them the number to be on the safe side).
  • If the person is breathing, turn her on her side into recovery position. Loosen any restrictive clothing or belts. If the person doesn’t regain consciousness within one minute, call an ambulance.
  • Continue to check whether the person is breathing while you wait for help to arrive.
  • If you suddenly notice the person is not breathing, or is making abnormal breathing sounds, turn the person on her back and start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) until emergency personnel arrive.

4. When and How to Perform CPR for Cardiac Arrest

Even if you took a CPR class for your driver’s license, or while you were at high school or at university, you should update your life saving skills. Guidelines have changed making CPR easier and the steps of CPR are now the same for all age groups, from newborns to adults: start with 30 chest compressions in the centre of the chest between the child’s nipples. Remember the song “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees to compress at the correct speed.

For babies, use two fingers or your thumbs and compress the chest about 4 cm deep; that is about one third of their entire chest height. On a child older than one year, use the heel of either one hand or two hands on top of each other to compress the chest about 5 cm. For children older than 8 years, you need to use both hands on top of each other and compress the chest 6 cm deep, just like in adults. Alternate 30 chest compressions with giving two breaths. No need to blow hard, just give normal breaths, each one lasting about one second.

Keep in mind that in a stressful situation we feel more confident and competent if we have updated and refreshed skills. CPR cannot be taught online, it’s a hand-on training. Find a local provider of high quality first aid training to learn and practice CPR.

5. When and How to Use an AED

Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) have become a common sight in shopping malls, airports, businesses and some train stations. Using an AED can provide life-saving intervention if someone is in cardiac arrest. You don’t need to be formally certified to use an AED but it helps you be prepared for the event. Even if you have never taken a first aid class, don’t hesitate to incorporate an AED into CPR. The defibrillator gives you verbal commands and tells you exactly what you need to do.

6. What to Do if Someone is Drowning:

Drowning is one of the most common causes of accidental death, especially in children. You must ensure your own safety before jumping into water to help someone. Before jumping, follow this guideline: Reach, Throw, Row, Go.
Reach: use a long gadget or tool to reach the person. Get into the water only if you need to and hold on to the edge while trying to reach the person
Throw: Throw a safety ring or similar object that the person can grab and hold on to.
Row: Get a boat if one is available.
Go: Swim out only as the last resort. Make sure there is a rescue ring, and a towel, a rope or something else in the boat to tow the person in.

Once you have rescued the person and she is on land, check their status and follow the ABC steps. To learn the ABC of first aid, sign up for a first aid course.

7. How to Recognise a Heart Attack:

Did you know that approximately one of out of seven deaths is from heart disease? Heart attacks as a consequence of heart disease is fairly common.
The main symptoms are chest pain or pressure radiating to the jaw or neck and down the arm. The person may look seriously ill, pale, and feel nauseous. Especially in women, symptoms tend to be more subtle.
If you suspect a heart attack, help the person to sit comfortably and call an ambulance immediately. You may offer an aspirin while you wait for the ambulance to arrive.

8. How to Recognise Stroke:

Most of us think that stroke only affects older people, but ANYONE can get a stroke at any time. A stroke is either caused by a small blood clot in one of the small blood vessels in the brain or by a bleeding from a rupture in one of those small blood vessels.

Remember the acronym F.A.S.T. to recognise the signs of stroke:
F = face: you may notice paralysis or numbness of the face causing asymmetry of the face.
A = arms: weakness, paralysis or numbness of the limbs, typically on one side of the body causes the person to not be able to lift both arms high up with the same strength.
S = speech: the person has difficulties talking or understanding speech.
T = time: if you see someone exhibiting just on or all of these signs, call an ambulance immediately.

Other signs of a stroke include severe headaches, dizziness and disorientation, difficulty seeing, and difficulty walking.

If you suspect a stroke or cannot explain a person’s changed behaviour, call an ambulance immediately: when a person is suffering from stroke, every second counts! While you wait for help to arrive, ensure the casualty is comfortable and keep an eye on the the entire time for any changes.

9. Recognise and Help in Case of Choking

One of the scariest moment of every parent is a child who is choking. Choking is one of the most common reason for children to die and knowing the correct steps is a vital skill. Recommendations depend on the age of the choking child and also on a country’s guidelines. In most countries, older children and adults are recommended to cough as hard as they can if a choking incident is not life-threatening. For a complete blockade in an airways resulting in the person’s inability to breath, measures are more drastic: hard back slabs in infants and the Heimlich Manoeuvre from toddlers age on. The Heimlich Manoeuvre, now called upper abdominal thrust, can expels a foreign object from a child’s airway if performed correctly. You cannot learn about the Heimlich Manoeuvre by reading about it, take a first aid course to learn more about it.

10. What to Do in Severe Bleeding

Trauma with severe blood loss is another of the most common causes of death. Even a simple head wound can lead to considerable bleeding for a relatively simple cut. Should a person be seriously injured, it is absolutely vital to know that to reduce blood loss, direct pressure into the bleeding wound, preferably with the help of a clean dressing or bandage, is the first and most important step. Start applying pressure immediately and maintain the pressure while helping a person to sit or lie down on the ground. If the person is conscious and blood loss is significant, you must aim at preventing shock to develop. Elevate the legs of the person lying on the ground; this is shock position and is only used on conscious patients.

According to the latest guidelines from 2016, both haemostatic dressings and tourniquets should be used when direct pressure cannot control severe bleeding. The guidelines are very clear that “training is required to ensure tourniquet application is safe and effective”.


We hope the overview gives you an idea of the skills you should have to be able to help save a person’s life, whether this is a family member, a friend, a work colleague or a stranger on the street. No article and no online class can be sufficient to teach you these skills: skills like CPR, recovery position or the Heimlich Manoeuvre are skills you need to practice on manikins and other training material. If your last life saving skills training is more than a couple of years ago, register for a course in your area today. If you are looking for courses in English in Switzerland, our partner HEALTHY AND SAFE AWAY FROM HOME offers a variety of public courses and you can contact them for a private booking in the comfort of your home, your sports club or your workplace.