When cardiac arrest occurs, emergency help is needed for the person to survive. Prompt use of an automatic external defibrillator (AED) can mean the difference between life and death. Not every workplace has an AED installed, but it should. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), approximately 10,000 people suffer cardiac arrest while on the job annually. When cardiac arrest occurs outside of a hospital, the survival rate is only 10 percent. When victims are given CPR and are treated with an AED outside of a hospital, the survival rate rises to nearly 40 percent.
When a worker suffers cardiac arrest, time is truly of the essence. While calling 911 immediately is essential, the truth is that emergency personnel rarely arrive in time to save someone in the throes of cardiac arrest. Only about five percent of those brought to the hospital via ambulance with cardiac arrest will survive.
Cardiac arrest occurs when the victim’s heart stops beating. That means the cessation of blood and oxygen flow to the heart and brain. Cardiac arrest often provides no warning signs, and it is not unusual for healthy people to simply drop from this heart disturbance. A shock from the AED can stop the heart from beating erratically and may restore the proper heartbeat. The electric shock from the AED does not start the heart again per se, but it can allow the heart’s pacemakers to beat normally again.
AEDs are relatively simple to use. However, during an emergency, it is critical that all employees know where the AED is located. Keep the AED in an area frequented by employees and ensure that it is easily accessible. Never lock an AED or place it in a hidden area, such as a closet. Humidity can also damage an AED, so do not store it in areas prone to humidity. When someone experiences cardiac arrest, there is a three-minute window in which to save them. How many AEDs a workplace requires depends on the ability to get the device to a victim within that timeframe.
AEDs are designed to last between five to 10 years. Fortunately, most workplaces will never have to use an AED, but it is critical that available AEDs are up-to-date. When an old AED has never previously been used, the electrodes may no longer be viable, or the batteries may not work. While the FDA has received thousands of reports of malfunctioning AEDs, a sizable percentage of such malfunctions are due to lack of battery maintenance. Employers must set up a regular AED maintenance program.
The AED should instruct the rescuer on how to use the device once it is turned on. It will let the person know to attach the defibrillator pads on the device to the victim’s bare chest, so the AED can measure heart rhythm and provide an electric shock.
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