There was a sad story in the media this week about a shoplifter who unfortunately died in police custody. These stories are always sad and I don’t know how the person in this particular case died but often people who pass away in custody actually die from positional asphyxia.

With this in mind I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to go through a few ways not to restrain someone.

Restraint techniques have to be professionally taught in a certain way to help prevent death from positional asphyxia. A case which illustrated this was a clubber who sadly died in Bradford.

When any person, door supervisors, authority or organisation considers restraining someone they must be aware of the dangers of positional asphyxia as it’s a known killer. Wikipedia describes positional asphyxia as:

A form of asphyxia which occurs when someone’s position prevents them from breathing adequately. A small but significant number of people die suddenly and without apparent reason during restraint by police, prison officers and health care staff. Positional asphyxia may be a factor in some of these deaths.

It is mainly caused by someone’s lack of ability to breathe, which could be acerbated by the position they are put in when being restrained. For instance, if you restrain someone around the neck that can increase the risk, so can putting extra pressure on the chest as that can restrict the person’s breathing.

Often there is more than one person involved in restraining someone, sometimes if can be by holding them to the floor and another person separately holding them around the neck.

There are a number of factors that can increase the chance of positional asphyxia and these include the following:

1. Someone being pinned down on the floor. Most people will move the person as quickly as possible and get them into the recovery position swiftly

2. Putting weight on a person’s back as this is going to restrict the person’s breathing.

3. Being held around the neck as this also heavily restricts breathing

Wrist Lock

4. Obesity – a person’s own body weight can restrict breathing

5. Alcohol and drug use

If all of these factors occur at the same time, the chance of positional asphyxia is heavily multiplied.

People suffering from this condition often can’t breathe and they are gasping for air, then they begin to panic and they need even more oxygen to compensate and it becomes a bit of a viscous circle. It’s a bit like a bower constrictor snake slowly strangulating them of oxygen.

There is a common misconception that if someone is talking, they must be breathing, but it has been proved that people can talk even if they can’t breathe. It is an indicator that they are OK but not necessarily true.

In our training at GoodSense we use wrist locks on arms because when the attacker pushes against you and your restraint they put their own pressure on their wrist. The worst that can happen is you can break their wrist but if you sit on them to restrain them you could actually kill them.

In other words as a training organisation we teach holds that reduce the risk of positional asphyxia. We are also designed to work within the manual handling regulations so the person doing the restraining is much less likely to injure themselves as well during the process.

I have enclosed a video which is a good example of the sort of wrist lock we would use but when we do it we would use two people locking each individual wrist. However, we would initially use an escort or holding position first but only if the subject was compliant. If they were non-compliant we would use a wrist lock as shown in the video. You wouldn’t use this type of hold on a child as you could easily break their wrist but you would do it on an adult.