FIRST aid experts are launching a training drive in the Highlands because of the high number of deaths caused by accidents or falls in remote parts.

A total of 135 people died last year in this way in the area, giving it the highest mortality rate for any region in Scotland per 1000 people, according to the St Andrew's First Aid charity.

In the Highlands, crofters, shepherds, foresters, inshore fishermen and gamekeepers working alone in isolated areas are at particular risk and the charity will work with the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) to provide first aid training in Inverness from next month.

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A spokesman for St Andrew's First Aid said that an accident that might not be life-threatening in a city could easily become so in the Highland outposts.

He said: "The city centre response time is about eight minutes. In rural areas it can be many times that.

"When there is a serious incident like a cardiac arrest, one minute can be crucial. If you have a serious arterial bleed out you have about 12 minutes. If you know how to stem the bleeding it is the difference between life and death. With things like panic attacks you have about 12 minutes before they can become far more serious."

The figures on mortality follow an earlier report from the Health and Safety Executive that showed one in five work place related deaths in Scotland occurred in the Highlands. According to the charity the figures do not include road accidents, but do cover accidents in the mountains and other recreational misadventure.

However, mountain rescue teams are well trained in first aid and the bulk of the deaths surveyed are associated with lone, frequently physical working in rural areas.

Jim Dorman, St Andrew's First Aid's Operations Director, said the Highland figures were alarming and demonstrated the importance of good first aid as well as investment in training and equipment.

He said: "The Highlands presents unique challenges due to its often remote locations. It is not possible to say that in all these instances first aid would have altered the outcome, however early first aid does save lives and there is evidence that good CPR and the provision of AEDs (Automated External Defibrillators) can improve survival rates by as much as 75%."

He said that as part of St Andrew's First Aid's commitment to the Highlands and to address these worrying statistics, the charity was working with the SCVO to provide first aid training in Inverness from next month.

Under changes in the health and safety legislation which passed into law on October 1, liability for the selection of a first aid training provider falls with the employer.