Whenever a first aid course is delivered, the subject of motorcycle helmet removal comes up, specifically when discussing the need to move people who are unconscious. In first aid the threat to the airway and therefore breathing is of paramount importance in order to preserve life, prevent worsening and to promote recovery and this is a very real threat if the casualty is unresponsive.

Popular culture, television and word of mouth horror stories can sometimes scare people in the heat of the moment especially when knowledge from your first aid training can disappear altogether leaving people petrified of making the wrong decisions.

We always actively encourage our learners to discuss these scenarios, practice and build competence and muscle memory around certain protocols which in turn makes it easier in the moment to help a person in need.

Here is Stuart Young, a First Aider trained by ABC Life Support at Shakespeare Globe is also volunteer motorcycle race marshal giving us the instructions on how to remove a helmet in a first aid situation.

Stuart Young, volunteer steward at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
Stuart Young, a volunteer steward at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre at work

Motorcycle Helmet removal

The reason to remove a helmet depends upon the problems you might have treating the patient.

If there is no immediate reason to remove a helmet, leave it in place until medically trained personnel take control of the patient.

If the rider is non responsive you may decide to remove the helmet for instance if you need to perform CPR, there is severe bleeding, vomiting or other practical reasons that would significantly delay lifesaving measures or if airway access is obstructed.

The major consideration during helmet removal is keeping the neck stable and maintaining alignment of the head, neck and spine.

The process is a 2 person procedure.

The visor will be opened to attempt communication with, and observe the rider.

One person (A) is behind the riders head, initially holding the helmet to maintain the head inline with the spine.

The second person (B) is in front of the rider kneeling by their head, initially undoing the chin strap of the helmet and then supporting the head at the base of the skull by working one hand under the back of the helmet and with the other head keeping the jaw braced at the chin. The head is now supported such that person A can gently work the helmet free, normally in a slight rocking motion, backwards and forwards. Pulling the base of the helmet slightly apart helps the process.

Normal first aid can then be applied, with the neck immobilised.

Note: some helmets contain cheek pieces to provide a tighter helmet fit. Normally a red tag will indicate where these can be eased free to help helmet removal, but it is not essential. Person B will ascertain if removal is practical/timely.

For further information on how to remove a helmet, take a look at a short video.