Sudden Cardiac Arrest in the Workplace: What You Should Do

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Throughout the month of June, the National Safety Council will be highlight the leading causes of injury and death in the workplace, on the road, and in the home as part of National Safety Month. For the kickoff week, the NSC promoted preparedness for commonly occurring emergencies, such as sudden cardiac arrest. This is especially important for the workplace, where about 10,000 sudden cardiac arrests occur annually; most of them fatal.

Not to be confused with a heart attack, an SCA occurs when an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) causes the heart to stop pumping blood to the body. Without treatment, within minutes an SCA is usually fatal, with only five to seven percent of people who wait for emergency medical services surviving.

However, many of the deaths caused by an SCA can be avoided if treated quickly – with a shock from an automated external defibrillator – to restore a regular heartbeat along with CPR. Although not all SCAs are treatable with CPR and AEDs, the American Heart Association found that 23 percent of out of hospital cardiac arrests are arrhythmias that will respond to a shock from an AED. Therefore, AEDs and people who know how to use them, are potential life savers that every workplace would benefit from.

Unfortunately, the typical workplace doesn’t have enough AEDs or people who know how they work. As part of the first week of National Safety Month, the NSC has called for employers to not only install an AED in their workplace, but to develop an AED program to ensure that the device works and someone knows how to use it should the need arise.

In an effort to develop more effective AED programs, the NSC’s magazine, Safety and Health, published a list of five keys to maximizing the effectiveness of workplace AED programs, including:

Championing Each workplace should have a person who promotes workplace safety through informational material and an annual review of the emergency response plan, including the AED program.

Device Tracking and Maintenance Just like the fire system is checked and maintained to ensure it works in case of a fire, so should the AED. Make sure the batteries and and paddles have not expired so the AED works, if it is needed.

AED Placement When each minute following an SCA can make a life-or-death difference, where the AED is located matters. Ideally it should be an easy to reach spot that allows for it to be used within three to five minutes.

Training Ensuring that someone in the workplace is trained in using the AED and performing CPR will maximize a person’s chance of survival on the event of an SCA.

SCA Drills Emergency response drills, like fire drills, occur regularly in the workplace to prepare employees in case there is a fire. A similar plan should be implemented as part of the AED program to acclimate the workplace to SCA incidents and identify the best way to handle an SCA should one occur.

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, waiting for an ambulance to come has a five to seven percent survival rate for the victim. However, studies of immediate defibrillation have shown a survival rate that goes up to 60 percent, OSHA says.

Although these keys to maximizing workplace AED programs will not guarantee survival for a person experiencing a major heart issue, having a well-developed program could mean an SCA sufferer has a better chance at survival.

By Staff

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