Emergency response: Training and defibrillators save lives

Mary Cornforth Cawood
Mary Cornforth Cawood

February is Heart Health Month for good reason.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease remains the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. More than 600,000 Americans die of heart disease each year — one in four deaths. Heart disease was the second leading cause of death in Mesa County in 2014.

Not only is heart disease one of the most widespread health problems, but it’s also one of the most preventable.  We all know smoking, an unhealthy diet and insufficient exercise leads to poor heart health. High cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes also increases risk for heart disease.

Prevention is important. A healthy lifestyle greatly reduces your chances of developing heart disease. But what about the unexpected?  Is your workplace prepared to deal with sudden cardiac arrest?  Sudden cardiac arrest might not be the first thing that comes to mind when discussing heart health, but your company’s ability to respond to a cardiac emergency could save the life of a co-worker. Many victims have no prior history of heart disease and are stricken without warning.

Heart attacks are not the only cause of cardiac arrest. Other causes include electrocution and asphyxiation — loss of consciousness and death caused by inadequate oxygen in the work environment, such as a confined space. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration reports there are 220,000 victims of sudden cardiac arrest each year in the United States and about 10,000 of those incidents occur at work.

Sadly, waiting for the arrival of emergency medical services results in only a 5 percent to 7 percent survival rate. Those odds are pretty terrifying.

How can your workplace prepare for cardiac-related emergencies? Encourage staff to train in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first aid. It only takes a day. The local Red Cross chapter offers monthly training for individuals interested in becoming certified. Visit the Web site located at www.redcross.org/take-a-class/program-highlights/cpr-first-aid. Better yet, employers can offer worksite training.Trainings can be arranged at www.redcross.org/prepare/location/workplace/train-employees.

The best response to sudden cardiac arrest is the placement of automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in the workplace. AEDs save precious treatment time and greatly improve a victim’s survival odds because they can be used before EMS arrive. AED training is now included in first aid and CPR trainings. Employees can be trained to recognize a sudden cardiac arrest and provide early defibrillation with an AED, quite possibly saving the life of a colleague.

AEDs should be placed in areas where many people work closely together, areas where electric-powered devices are used, outdoor worksites where lightning could occur, break rooms and such remote sites as construction projects and drilling rigs.

Still not convinced AEDs are a worthy investment? Consider these two success stories from the American Heart Association:

n A 62-year-old employee suffered a sudden cardiac arrest after walking up the stairs to her office. Employees in the next office heard her fall and notified the company emergency response team. She was defibrillated and saved in less than two minutes. EMS personnel then arrived to transport her to the hospital. She sent a note to the company after her discharge from the hospital saying she had “no doubt that headquarters spent money wisely.”

n While standing on a fire escape during a building renovation, a 30-year old construction worker was holding a metal pipe with both hands. The pipe contacted a high voltage line, and the worker instantly collapsed. About four minutes later, a rescue squad arrived and began CPR. Within six minutes, the squad had defibrillated the worker, and his heartbeat returned to normal. The worker was then transported to a hospital, where he regained consciousness and was discharged within two weeks.

Training your employees on how to respond to sudden cardiac arrest and placing AEDs at your workplace is one of the best investments you can make. You can bet someone’s life on it.

For more information about how your place of business can use AEDs, visit the OSHA Web site located at www.osha.gov or contact one of the these organizations: American Heart Association, American Red Cross, National Center for Early Defibrillation or National Safety Council

For more information about promoting heart health in the workplace, log on to www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/WorkplaceWellness/Workplace-Wellness_UCM_460416_SubHomePage.jsp.

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