a damaged small grey car

First Aid Triage

All of us are aware when we go to hospital that those with the most serious injuries go first. This often means a very long wait if we’ve sustained a smaller injury like a broken arm. The ordering of treatment is a process called triage. So what about First Aid Triage?

While medical professionals are taught triage, it’s often overlooked for First Aiders. However, it’s vital that First Aiders understand some basic principles of triage! Often workplace incidents or car crashes can involve multiple patients. We’ve written 3 important points to keep in mind for First Aid Triaging.

1. First Aid Triage Priorities

If multiple people are injured, who do you prioritise? Of course it’s those with life threatening injuries. What are some common life threatening injuries it’s important to treat? Things like excessive bleeding, or obstructed airways (i.e choking, water, blood or tongue)

Once you’ve treated those patients, than you can help those who are stable but don’t need urgent care. Of course, in such a scenario, make sure to keep monitoring patients and make sure to be alert to treat any whose condition changes for the worst.

2. Cardiac Arrest

In an emergency, a critical patient may go into cardiac arrest. A patient in cardiac arrest will have no effective breathing and be unconscious. Naturally we would likely want to treat them first due to the severity of their injury. However, there is a proviso: If someone is else needs urgent treatment to stay alive, we would treat them before giving CPR to another patient.

A torniquet is applied to a man who is bleeding out as a first aid triage priority.

Consider this hypothetical scenario, you are a designated first aider at a road-working site. There is a severe car crash. You are nearby and determine it is safe enough to help. You find two people inside and you drag them to safety. Patient 1 is in cardiac arrest. He is unresponsive and not breathing. Patient 2 is still breathing and conscious, but his leg was seriously injured. He is suffering from life threatening bleeding.

CPR is performed on a car crash victim

Which of these patients would you treat first? In this case the right answer is Patient 2. Controlling his bleeding by packing the wound or applying a torniquet would give him a fair chance of survival. Once we have the bleeding under control, then we can provide CPR to patient 1.

So just to recap: while we aim to treat the most serious injuries first, if someone is in cardiac arrest, we prioritise other life threatening injuries before moving onto the person who needs CPR.

3. Safety Concerns for First Aid Triage

If there is an incident where multiple people have been injured, then chances are the incident is severe enough to present a significant safety risk. What does that mean for you? If you have to triage people, don’t forget about safety! Take steps to protect yourself. Do what you can to make the scene safe. If the scene is safe enough to enter, provide assistance getting patients out of the way. It’s a good idea to alert those with minor injuries to get to safety. Then move those who need the most help. This may include dragging the unconscious to safety.

So let’s wrap up what we’ve learned:

  1. In Triage we prioritise the most severely injured first
  2. Except, If someone is in cardiac arrest, we treat other life threatening conditions first.
  3. We act safely.

Following these 3 simple steps will help us to act confidently as first aiders in a life threatening emergency!

Read more great articles in our Accidental First Aid Guide.
Read the Australian Resuscitation Council Guidelines.

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