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Sudden cardiac arrest in the workplace – what would you do?

Imagine a Monday morning like any other… You walk into the office and make yourself a cup a coffee whilst catching up with your team about the weekend. All of a sudden, you hear the violent sound of a cup smashing and see one of your employees fall to the ground – unconscious, not breathing, with no pulse.

What would you do?

If the answer is “I don’t know,” the tragic reality is that without immediate CPR and a shock from a defibrillator (or ‘defib’), that person – your employee – would likely die within minutes.

As an employer, you’re responsible for the health and safety of your employees, but in order to be fully prepared you must first understand the number one risk facing Australia today – sudden cardiac arrest.

What is sudden cardiac arrest? Isn’t it the same as a heart attack?

Sudden cardiac arrest is the largest cause of death in Australia, and is far more lethal and unpredictable than a heart attack. A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to part of the heart stops and thus causes a section of the heart muscle to begin to die; whereas a cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops beating as a whole. In other words, the heart attack victim is awake and the heart is beating. In contrast, the sudden cardiac arrest victim is not awake and the heart is not beating.

Cardiac arrest is often referred to as ‘sudden death,’ because without an immediate response from a first aider and a defib shock, the chances of survival are a mere 2% to 5%. For every minute that passes, survival rates reduce by 10 percent.

Why is it then that so many workplaces don’t have a defib?

While every office is required to have a fire extinguisher, it’s not compulsory for employers to have a defib in the workplace. A shocking fact indeed when you consider how many Australians died last year due to sudden cardiac arrest (33,000), compared to fire emergencies (56).

Employers want their staff to feel safe at work, and it’s well documented that safe and healthy workplaces boost staff morale, lower levels of absenteeism, reduce job stress and encourage higher organisational commitment – a win-win for all involved. But when it comes down to buying First Aid equipment such as defibs, most employers possess one of two mentalities:

1)  The ‘It will never happen to me’ mentality, a common response when the majority of staff are young, fit and healthy.

2) The ‘I’ll get around to buying one eventually’ mentality, a common response for most workplaces with older staff, or ‘low risk’ workplaces.

In reality, however, there’s no such thing as a ‘low risk’ workplace. Regardless of a person’s age, occupation or health status, cardiac arrest can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time.

How do I get prepared?

Understand your duty of care

By law, employers must provide a safe working environment so far as is reasonably practicable – this includes having an adequate number of trained first aiders, equipment, procedures and facilities needed to create and uphold a safe workplace for all employees at all times. Failure to provide adequate first aid facilities exposes businesses to financial liability and reputational damage. If you’re unsure of your obligations, head to the St John website and check the OHS act and workcover statements to make sure your business is meeting its duty of care requirements.

Get first aid ready

Ensure you have enough trained first aiders in the workplace at all times. It’s also important to make sure you’ve got an adequate number of First Aid kits that are fully stocked, easily accessible and replenished often.

Insist on having a defib on-site

 While a defib is not compulsory in the workplace, it is a vital piece of emergency First Aid equipment and the only definitive First Aid treatment for cardiac arrest.

In the event of cardiac arrest, the correct response follows the ‘DRSABCD’ (Danger, Response, Send for help, Airway, Breathing, CPR, Defibrillation) model with CPR administered prior to a shock from a defib. While using a defib is simple (the user follows audio instructions), and anyone can and should use one in an emergency, having the knowledge and confidence to perform CPR and administer a defib shock correctly is crucial to ensure the best outcome for the victim. Simply having a defib on-site does not erase the need for adequate First Aid training.

While you can’t control when and where cardiac arrest strikes, there are simple steps you can take to ensure your employees lives are not at risk in the event of a workplace emergency.

Don’t be one of those businesses that wish they were prepared earlier.

St John Defib Infographic - V08 Flat_001.jpg


About the author

Anthony Hasphall is the Training Manager for St John Ambulance Victoria. Businesses can visit the St John website for more information. With defibrillators being fully tax deductible assets (and a $300 manufacturer’s rebate available until the end of financial year), there’s never been a better time to get prepared.

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James Harkness

James Harkness

James Harnkess previous editor at Dynamic Business

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