Defibrillators Can Save Lives, but Will Employers Take the Leap?

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By Genevieve Douglas

OSHA estimates 10,000 cardiac arrests occur at work in the U.S. per year, and the majority of employers aren’t prepared with lifesaving support devices and training, practitioners tell Bloomberg BNA.

Cardiac arrest is a public health matter, affecting approximately one in 1,000 individuals with little indication of preceding factors, Dr. Michael Kurz, co-chair of the American Heart Association’s Systems of Care subcommittee and associate professor at the University of Alabama School of Medicine, told Bloomberg BNA June 15. “It is a disease that can strike anyone at any time,” but the faster a victim of cardiac arrest can receive treatment, such as from an automated external defibrillator, the more likely he or she is to fully recover, he said.

AHA surveyed more than 3,000 workers in various fields between February and April. The association found that more than half (55 percent) of workers can’t get first aid or CPR and AED training from their employer—and even if employers do offer this training, it’s often either one or the other. AHA also found that half of all U.S. workers (50 percent) cannot locate where an AED may be stored in the workplace.

“This is a big public safety issue, and an issue for employees and their safety as well,” Kurz said.

Concerns of Liability

Employers haven’t been as quick to adopt implementation of AEDs at work sites as some may have imagined, Bradford Hammock, co-leader of Jackson Lewis P.C.’s workplace safety and health practice group in Washington, told Bloomberg BNA June 16.

Most often, employers are worried about the liability of having an AED on the work site if an employee has to use one, and how to best train, communicate with, and educate employees if there is an AED available, Hammock said. Additionally, Hammock noted that an employer’s liability in the event of a cardiac arrest can vary by state laws and localities, “so it’s hard for a company to get a handle on all the potential issues of liability.”

Employers and employees alike voice concerns that if an AED is used, “it might be used incorrectly or used to hurt someone,” Kurz said, but “the opposite is actually true.” The reality of these devices is that they won’t let the user further injure the person having a heart attack because it is automated, Kurz added. “The alternative here is the person dies,” he said.

OSHA Defers to Employers

When it comes to requirements from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for workplace safety, the agency has generally taken the position that employers have a choice about how to ensure employees are provided first aid or medical treatment, Hammock said. “The agency has more or less stepped back and allowed the decision to the discretion of the employer,” he said.

One option is to train employees, another is to rely on 911 emergency services, as long as the work site is in appropriate proximity to a medical provider, he said. Employers have expressed concerns that if they install AEDs in the workplace, it creates a third avenue of treatment that is less cut and dry, he added. As a result, a lot of employers have some reticence to fully bring on AEDs and train people in CPR in the workplace, Hammock said.

One important thing for HR and employers to consider is that if employees are requires to learn first aid, CPR, and other lifesaving measures, they will also have to be trained in OSHA’s bloodborne pathogens standard, Melissa Bailey, a shareholder in the Washington office of Ogletree Deakins and litigator in workplace safety and health issues, told Bloomberg BNA June 16. “That’s the compliance burden of mandating that first aid training” be provided to employees and performed approximately once every two years. “It’s a fairly significant burden,” she said.

Bailey noted, however, that for cardiac arrests, an employer could potentially just purchase, install, and train employees on AEDs and would likely not have to comply with that larger CPR, bloodborne pathogens standard burden.

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris at tharris@bna.com

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