How to Perform a First Aid Primary Survey

The first aid primary survey is a method to assess a person who is not responsive. 

Before you do anything you need to assess if it is safe to approach, and if the person is breathing or bleeding. 

The primary survey is sometimes refered to as DR ABC as it helps us to remember the steps. 


Before approaching the casualty, always make sure the area is safe. 


Check if the casualty is responsive or unresponsive. As you approach them, introduce yourself and ask them questions to see if you can get a response. Kneel next to their chest and gently shake their shoulders, asking, "What has happened?", "Open your eyes!" Do not place your face close to the casualty’s face when doing this. 

If the casualty opens their eyes, or gives another gesture, they are responsive. 

If they do not respond to you in any way they are unresponsive and should be treated as quickly as possible. 


Check their airway is open and clear.

Staying at arm’s length of the casualty. Open the airway by placing one hand on the forehead to tilt the head back and use two fingers from the other hand to lift the chin. 


Check casualty is breathing normally.

You now need to check if the casualty is breathing normally. Do not place your ear above their mouth to look, listen or feel for breathing. Simply look for a rise and fall of the chest instead. 

If they are unresponsive and not breathing, you need to call 999/112 for emergency help and start CPR straight away. Ask a helper to find and bring a defibrillator (AED). 

If they are responsive and breathing move on to circulation. 


Check for severe bleeding.

Once you have established they are breathing, look and check for any signs of severe bleeding. 

If they are bleeding severely you will need to control and treat the bleeding by applying direct pressure to the wound. Call 999/112 for emergency help. 

If they are unresponsive and breathing but with no bleeding, put them in the recovery position and call 999/112 for emergency help. 

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