The leading cause of death in the United States is heart disease. People who have heart disease are at higher risk for sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), but a person who appears healthy and has no known heart disease or other risk factors can also suffer SCA. According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), there are 220,000 victims of SCA each year, and approximately 10,000 of the attacks occur at work. Most people who have SCA die from it—often within minutes. Rapid treatment of SCA with a defibrillator can be lifesaving.
Automated external defibrillators (AED) reduce the time between SCA and defibrillation and have improved survival rates. Bystanders can use an AED to save the life of someone who is having SCA. These portable devices are often found in public places such as shopping malls, golf courses, airports and airplanes, casinos, convention centers, hotels, sports venues, schools, and, of course, worksites.
Although the clinical benefits of AEDs are established, individuals, institutions, and organizations implementing AED programs have faced an evolving legal and regulatory landscape. However, compliance with nominal regulations minimizes the legal risks of AED ownership, use, and medical oversight. Employers and HR professionals should be aware of the clinical benefits of AED programs and strategies for risk management.
Minimal investment, maximum benefit
How does an AED work? Two pads connected to the device are placed on the victim’s chest. A computer inside the AED analyzes the victim’s heart rhythm and determines if a shock is required to save him. If a shock is required, the AED uses voice instructions to guide the user through the process. The AED sends an electric shock to the heart to try to restore its normal rhythm.
What are the risks associated with the installation and use of AEDs in the workplace? Nevada, like most states, has Good Samaritan laws that immunize individuals who render emergency care or assistance:
Any person who gratuitously and in good faith renders emergency medical care involving the use of an [AED] is not liable for any civil damages as a result of any act or omission, not amounting to gross negligence, by that person in rendering that care.
Nevada also has a somewhat identical immunization statute pertaining to businesses that have an AED on their premises. A business or organization that has placed an AED on its premises will not be liable for any civil damages resulting from a person’s action in using the device or for providing it to the person for the purpose of rendering such care if the business or organization:
- Complies with all current federal and state regulations governing the use and placement of an AED;
- Ensures that the AED is maintained and tested according to the operational guidelines established by the manufacturer; and
- Establishes requirements for the notification of emergency medical assistance and guidelines for the maintenance of the equipment.
In 2005, Nevada removed the requirement that a person who provides emergency medical care with an AED must have had training on its use to be exempt from civil liability. However, it’s still good practice to train your workforce on using an AED and providing care to an SCA victim until emergency personnel arrive.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the cost of an AED ranges from $1,200 to $3,000. Workers can easily be trained to recognize SCA, notify emergency personnel, and perform CPR or use an AED to provide early defibrillation. Organizations such as the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross provide training on AEDs that often incorporates CPR training. The training typically lasts no more than four hours, and there should be multiple training centers throughout most states.
AED success stories cited by the American Heart Association include:
- A 41-year-old worker at a heating and air-conditioning systems manufacturer suffered an SCA at work. Fortunately, his company had AEDs and trained responders, and he was revived within four minutes after three shocks and CPR was administered. By the time emergency personnel arrived, he had been resuscitated and was moved to a hospital. The employee survived.
- A 62-year-old employee of a coatings, glass, and chemical manufacturer suffered an SCA after walking up the stairs to her office. Employees in the next office heard her fall and notified the plant emergency response team. The trained response team defibrillated the woman and saved her in less than two minutes. Emergency personnel then arrived to transport her to the hospital. The woman sent a note to the company after her discharge from the hospital saying she had “no doubt that headquarters spent money [to buy an AED] wisely.”
- An employee at an automobile manufacturer was working on the production line when he suddenly collapsed, lost consciousness, and stopped breathing. Plant security responded, and the employee’s heart responded and his pulse returned after two shocks with an AED. He is alive today thanks to the fast actions of his coworkers and the company’s emergency response plan, which included AED installation and training.
The benefits of placing an AED in your workplace and training your workforce how to recognize SCA and use an AED are obvious. The devices have a proven track record of saving lives, and an AED could prevent the loss of your most valuable asset, an employee. With growing recognition of the survival benefit they provide, it’s likely that AEDs, like airbags, smoke detectors, and fire extinguishers, will soon be firmly established in the realm of public safety.