Every year, over 350,000 people experience cardiac arrest outside of a hospital. Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is relatively common, but until earlier this year when NFL player Damar Hamlin experienced it during an NFL game on TV, it wasn’t often publicized. Fortunately, thanks to a prompt emergency response and use of an automated external defibrillator (AED), Hamlin survived. However, with a fatality rate of 95 percent, most victims aren’t as lucky. One silver lining of this critical incident is that it raised awareness of SCA and proved the importance of having an active and up-to-date AED program at the workplace.
Cardiac Arrest vs. Heart Attack
Different from a heart attack (which occurs when a blockage cuts off blood flow to the heart), SCA occurs when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly malfunctions and stops beating. Often, this is due to an electrical malfunction, irregular heart rhythm or arrhythmia, which can happen to anyone at any time. Heart attacks, on the other hand, are usually associated with other health issues such as high cholesterol or hypertension. Both conditions are life-threatening and require immediate medical care.
While some heart attacks occur gradually and can go undetected and untreated for days, cardiac arrest presents intensely and quickly. Once the heart stops, blood can’t be pumped to the brain, lungs or other vital organs, so the victim loses consciousness and stops breathing. Without prompt treatment, the victim dies within minutes.
What Is an AED?
An AED is a life-saving tool that, in combination with CPR, provides critical treatment during cardiac arrest. CPR is used to mimic the heart’s function of pushing blood through the body and keeping the victim alive. The AED is then used to deliver an electric shock that restores the heart’s beating to normal. When used within three to four minutes of cardiac arrest, AED increases the victim’s chance of survival from about five percent to 50 percent.
Fortunately, AEDs are now widely available, safe, effective and easy to use even without formal training. These machines provide the user with step-by-step instructions for how to use them, provide feedback on CPR compressions in real time, determine whether a shock is necessary and if so, when to administer the shock to the victim. Check out this video for more on how to use an AED:
Should an AED be Part of Your First-Aid Response?
About 10,000 SCA episodes occur in the workplace every year. However, according to the American Heart Association, only about half of all workers report being able to locate an AED at their job. Anyone can experience cardiac arrest, but workers who perform strenuous tasks may be at higher risk. This includes job activities that push the body beyond its normal limits, including heavy lifting, extended hours, fast-paced environments, extreme temperatures and working at heights.
The benefits of providing a readily accessible AED at work – especially in a physically demanding industry like construction – are clear: it can save a life in the event of an emergency. It’s recommended that employers implement an AED program, which includes providing multiple accessible defibrillators throughout a jobsite, training employees on where they’re located and how to use them and creating a comprehensive emergency response plan.
When thinking about AED placement, it’s important to consider response time. Since victims need treatment within three minutes, ideally a defibrillator should be close enough to access within 90 seconds. In most cases, there will need to be multiple AEDs placed throughout a site to achieve this. For more on creating an AED program, check out this article.
Currently, there are no federal laws requiring AEDs in the workplace. However, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have some kind of legislation around the devices, typically regarding the availability of AEDs in public buildings, whether medical oversight is necessary and training requirements. There’s no way of knowing if and when an employer might encounter SCA on their site, but including AEDs as part of your first aid and emergency response gives you the tools to save lives.