What is the Primary Survey?

If you’ve ever taken a first aid course or first aid class you may have been taught about the primary survey. In this blog post we explain more about the primary survey and how it is a useful tool for first aiders and first responders.

Put simply, the primary survey is an initial, rapid check for life-threatening conditions/injuries. One of the main principles of the primary survey is that it is ‘fix as you go’, ie if you find a problem you should stop and deal with that problem before moving on.

Different first aid providers and instructors will teach slightly different methods of the primary survey. However, one useful way to think about the primary survey is ‘DR ABC

D: Danger

Is there any danger to yourself or the casualty? Do you need to manage the scene of an incident?

Remember you are the most important person!

R: Response

How conscious (or unconscious) is the casualty? It may be useful to use a simple scale such as ‘AVPU’ in order to quickly assess the level of consciousness.

A: Alert
V: Responding to voice
P: Responding to pain
U: Unresponsive

A: Airway

Does the casualty have an open (“patent”) airway? If not, what airway management techniques do you need to use? Are there any risks to the casualty’s airway?

B: Breathing

Is the casualty breathing normally?

C: Circulation

Is the casualty bleeding significantly (internal or external)? Are there signs and symptoms of shock?

Often first aiders are taught ‘DR ABC’ for unconscious casualties where they need to be placed into the recovery position or CPR needs to be performed. However you can apply DR ABC to conscious/semi-conscious casualties too. It provides a structure for your quick patient assessment to find life-threatening injuries and illnesses.

CAB – revised primary survey

Some areas now teach ‘CAB’ rather than ‘ABC’. This means the first thing you should check for and control is significant, life-threatening external bleeding. It is important to follow the procedures you are taught by your provider.

John Furst

JOHN FURST is an experienced emergency medical technician and qualified first aid and CPR instructor. John is passionate about first aid and believes everyone should have the skills and confidence to take action in an emergency situation.

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1 Response

  1. cpefley says:

    There is so much information at this blog. I love it! Most people wouldn’t know how to respond so quickly and how to access an emergency situation.

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