What is the best method for assessing a casualty?

Primary SurveyThe best method for assessing a casualty in an emergency situation is to perform a quick primary survey followed by a more thorough secondary survey.

A primary survey is a quick assessment of a casualty to find and correct any life-threatening issues. It often follows a structure such as DR ABC (or DRSABC). This involves checking the following things:

  • Danger – any hazards to yourself or bystanders?
  • Response – is the casualty unconscious?
    • Shout for help – if they are unconscious, shout for further help but do not leave their side
  • Airway – open the airway by tilting the head back and lifting the chin
  • Breathing – check for normal breathing for up to 10 seconds
  • Circulation – perform CPR and use a defibrillator if the victim isn’t breathing

A primary survey should be carried out to assess all casualties. 

Once a primary survey has been performed, you can move onto a more thorough secondary survey. It may not be possible to perform a secondary survey if there are problems with the primary survey. For example, performing CPR takes priority over performing a secondary survey. 

The secondary survey involves:

  • History – finding out the history of the incident / illness from the casualty or bystanders
  • Examination – looking for visual clues
  • Vital signs / observations – if trained, recording relevant observations 

The primary and secondary survey provide a structure for you to assess each casualty in a logical way. You can learn how to perform primary and secondary surveys in more detail by signing up to a free online first aid class


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