Defibrillator survey raises workplace cardiac arrest concerns

More than half of British businesses do not have a defibrillator, show poll results released today (Monday 18 February) – despite the impact the device has on cardiac arrest survival rates.

The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) commissioned a survey of 1,000 business decision-makers across the UK and found that 513 did not have the lifesaving equipment at work. Almost two thirds of those who said ‘no’ also come from medium to very large companies.

In support of National Heart Month, this February, IOSH is encouraging companies to consider whether they should install a defibrillator, which restarts the heart using an electric shock.

IOSH research and information services manager Jane White said: “We want businesses to take a good look at the number of employees they have, their demographics and the kind of sector they work in, to assess whether they should get a defibrillator on-site.”

Currently, 30,000 people in the UK each year have a cardiac arrest out of hospital and NHS data shows just 18.5 per cent of them survive. American statistics also show 13 per cent of workplace fatalities result from cardiac arrest.

Ms White added: “Using a defibrillator within the first few minutes after collapse gives the best chance of saving a life – it can increase survival rates by as much as 75 per cent. This just proves to businesses how important it is to have the equipment on-site.”

Of the 327 respondents from small companies* who took the poll, 60.2 per cent, or 197, said they didn’t have a defibrillator. And 316 of the total 513 – almost two thirds – of those who said they didn’t have the lifesaving equipment came from medium, large and very large* companies.

When those who had replied ‘no’ in the survey were asked why their company had not got a defibrillator, 45 said it hadn’t even occurred to them, 56 felt there was no need, 34 said they had too few staff and 31 put it down to cost.

Ms White added: “This is actually worrying news for us, especially where the larger companies are concerned. Devices cost around £1,000 – can big companies with healthy turnovers afford not to have one?

“If someone suffers a cardiac arrest at work and does not survive, it is devastating for their family, friends and workmates and it can also cause a great deal of stress for the person giving CPR. Companies also need to consider the impact of losing a member of staff on their fellow employees, factoring in the cost of down-time, counselling and any replacement or training of staff. The message here is not only an ethical one, it also has financial implications. Of course, a defibrillator is good health and safety practice because it saves lives, but it also makes sound business sense.”

Inmarsat is the world’s leading provider of global satellite communication services – with 1,700 staff and a number of contractors. It installed two defibrillators in 2009 in its UK headquarters, after a 40-year-old contractor suffered a cardiac arrest in the office.

Lloydeth Newell, Inmarsat health and safety manager, said: “It was hard to argue the case for a defibrillator with management initially, due to concerns about liability and the fact emergency services can, in theory, reach us within six minutes.

“But one of our contractors had a cardiac arrest at his desk while he was talking to colleagues and tragically, he was pronounced dead in hospital half an hour later. It changed everything and I got permission straight from the top to assess how many defibrillators we needed and put them in place. We now consider it a vital piece of lifesaving equipment that will make a difference if we experience a similar situation again.”

Looking at the poll results by sector, education fared the worst, as 61 out of 86 people did not have a defibrillator at work. And two thirds of those in retail said they hadn’t got one – only 20 out of 58 had. Less than half – nearly 44 per cent – of the respondents from an office environment had a defibrillator. But the picture improved with manufacturing and engineering industries, where 65 per cent had the device, amounting to 62 out of 95.

Ms White added: “We want smaller companies to look beyond sheer employee numbers when assessing the need for a defibrillator. They might be a school with hundreds of pupils, a care facility with at-risk patients, or a shop or venue with a larger number of visitors or customers – these circumstances might make a big difference to the survival chances of someone having a cardiac arrest on-site. And if they are worried about cost, there is a lot of help out there for those that think they have a need.”

St John Ambulance offers workplace first aid training, including how to use defibrillators.

Clive James, St John Ambulance training and development officer, said: “Prompt first aid and use of a defibrillator can be the difference between a life lost and life saved. Defibrillators detect if a casualty’s heart rhythm needs shocking, so they can’t shock anyone that doesn’t need it. But ultimately a training course will give help to give you the confidence to use one.

“It’s important to understand that a person who has had a cardiac arrest will die if they don’t receive emergency treatment, so prompt CPR and use of a defibrillator will give them that chance to survive.”

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