The Primary Survey

The Primary Survey is a quick way for you to find out if someone has any injuries or conditions which are life-threatening. If you follow each step methodically, you can identify each life-threatening condition and deal with it in order of priority.

Use the letters DR. ABC to remember the steps: Danger, Response, Airway, Breathing and Circulation.

You’ll need to go through the Primary Survey every time you help someone, and make sure you don’t get distracted by anything else. Only move onto the Secondary Survey, if you’ve already done the Primary Survey and succeeded in dealing with any life-threatening conditions.

Watch our video


If someone needs help, before you go up to them check – is it safe?

• No: If you can see or hear any danger nearby, for you or them, like broken glass or oncoming traffic, then make the situation safe before you get any closer

• Yes: If you can’t see or hear any danger then it is safe to go up to them.


Do they respond when you ask them: ‘Are you alright?’ or if you say: ‘Open your eyes!’

• No: If they don’t respond, then gently shake their shoulders, or with a child - tap their shoulder, and with a baby - tap their foot. If they still don’t respond, then you can presume they’re unconscious and move on to the next stage – Airway. Someone who’s unconscious should always take priority so you should treat them first and as quickly as possible.

• Yes: If they respond by making eye contact with you or some gesture then you know that they’re conscious and you can move on to the next stage – Airway.


Is their airway open and clear?


o Conscious: If they’re conscious, treat them for conditions that may be blocking their airway, such as choking. Only move on to the next stage – Breathing – once their airway is open and clear.

o Unconscious: If they’re unconscious, tilt their head and lift their chin to open their airway. Only move on to the next stage – Breathing – once their airway is open and clear.

• Yes: If their airway is open and clear, move on to the next stage – Breathing.


Are they breathing normally? You need to look, listen and feel to check they’re breathing.

• No:

o Conscious: If they’re conscious, treat them for whatever is stopping them breathing, for example, an obstructed airway. Then go to the next stage – Circulation

o Unconscious: If they’re unconscious and not breathing, call 999/112 for an ambulance, or get someone else to call if possible, and start giving chest compressions and rescue breaths CPR – cardiopulmonary resuscitation. If this happens you probably won’t move on to the next stage as the casualty needs resuscitation.

• Yes: If they are breathing normally, move on to the next stage – circulation.


Are there any signs of severe bleeding?

• Yes: If they’re bleeding severely, control the bleeding with your gloved fingers, dressing or clothing, call 999/112 for an ambulance and treat them to reduce the risk of them going into shock.

• No: If they aren’t bleeding, and you’re sure you have dealt with any life-threatening conditions, then you can move on to the Secondary Survey, to check for any other injuries or illnesses.

Help to save lives - donate now

 Donate collection

Your support enables more people to save lives 

Free mobile first aid app

Free mobile first aid app

Get first aid advice at your fingertips with our free app for Android, Apple and BlackBerry.

First aid kits

First aid kit

Get a first aid kit from our wide range.

Contact and copyright info