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When Every Second Counts… AED Programs are Lifesavers

The American Red Cross offers AED, CPR and first aid training for individuals and organizations. Image courtesy of the American Red Cross.

By: Dom Tolli, Contributor

Heroes don’t just exist on television or in the movies, they’re the people who walk alongside us each day – at work, school or your favorite restaurant. But even heroes need the right tools to save lives. It wasn’t long ago that millions of Americans witnessed Damar Hamlin collapse on the field during a January football game. This was no ordinary injury.

What people witnessed was a man suffering from cardiac arrest and his workplace colleagues who rushed to his rescue. An automatic external defibrillator (AED) was used to help restore Hamlin’s heartbeat before an ambulance took him to a hospital. The heroes on the field that day had the tools they needed to save a life. It became clear that access to AEDs and appropriate training was at the forefront of minds of Americans across the country. If something like this could happen on the field, what could that mean for the workplace?

“With the amount of incidents occurring just in sports, I’m pretty sure anyone who responded would say if they did not have an AED on hand, that person probably would not be here today,” says Tania Brown, Regional Safety Manager for GXO, a global contract logistics company that manages supply chain and warehousing solutions for brands around the world.

A Sophisticated AED Program

That’s one reason why GXO in North America has at least one AED on each property across its sites. GXO’s AED program, which began in 2020, requires AEDs to be placed within three minutes of a site’s highest populated area. (The average response time for outside first responders once 911 is called is 8-12 minutes. The first few minutes are critical to start treatment.) Large facilities will have up to four AEDs. In total, GXO has placed approximately 500 AEDs throughout its facilities.

GXO in 2019 revamped its emergency preparedness and response program to require every facility worldwide to have an emergency response team trained in first aid, CPR and AED use through the American Red Cross. All sites were surveyed to confirm AEDs were in place, and how many. Some sites have AEDs mounted on personal medic carts for mobility. All facilities also must confirm a monthly visual inspection process put in place to ensure all AEDs are in good condition, with batteries charged and pads ready to go; this check is reinforced with a software monitoring system.

All emergency response team members, supervisors and managers receive Red Cross training. Prior to COVID-19, all training was face-to-face. Since then, many sites have gone to blended learning, says Brown, with classroom work done online and hands-on skills training done by an instructor in person. Everyone who completes training receives a two-year Red Cross certification. Software tracks and schedules training while also monitoring when certifications are out of date.

Brown points to at least four incidents where first aid, CPR and AED training was the difference between life and death. Four incidents involved successfully administering CPR – and two of these situations required successful use of an AED.

Arresting Statistics

Cardiac arrest is among the leading causes of death in the United States. About 10,000 cardiac arrests occur in the workplace each year, according to OSHA. What is worrisome: only 50% of people can locate an AED at work.

The survival rate for people suddenly going into cardiac arrest outside the hospital is just over 9%. After about five to eight minutes of cardiac arrest without CPR, irreversible brain damage and death can occur. But when CPR is used immediately those odds increase by two or three times.

About AED

All approved AEDs in the United States use voice prompts to lead the user through the steps, and some also have a visual display. If someone at work, or at any location, goes into cardiac arrest, emergency response experts say first call 911. Start chest compressions and CPR immediately. CPR is imperative; it helps to keep blood and oxygen flowing throughout the patient’s body. Use an AED if available.

Electricity from an AED passes between the electrode pads and into a person’s heart when he or she is shocked. When a patient’s cardiac cells depolarize, the chaotic and ineffective rhythm in the heart is halted. This is known as defibrillating. When the heart has been defibrillated and restored to a normal rhythm, it begins to pump oxygen-rich blood throughout the body again.

Finally, waste no time in getting the person to a hospital as soon as possible.

AEDs in smaller facilities

About 10,000 cardiac arrests occur in the workplace each year, according to OSHA. Image courtesy of ZOLL.

Large global corporations such as GXO are far from the only businesses now recognizing the need for CPR and AED training, inspections and AEDs themselves.

Even though there are no federally mandated laws requiring AEDs, a smaller company such as Retail Business Services of Quincy, Massachusetts, has safety teams conduct Red Cross Adult and Pediatric First Aid/CPR/AED training for hundreds of associates at the Stop & Shop grocery chain each year.

Retail Business Services set up its AED program to comply with a Rhode Island state mandate requiring retailers capable of holding more than 300 people to have an AED on site and people trained to use them. After deploying AEDs and providing extensive training in Rhode Island, Retail Business Services secured AED devices for the rest of the Stop & Shop supermarkets it services in the chain.

In addition to training, Retail Business Services Safety Specialist James Ingari adds, “Inspection and maintenance of AEDs is critical. It’s important to monitor for maintenance such as expired AED pads, dead batteries and AED software not updated.”

OPS Security Group, Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, with about 700 employees, provides private security for large scale special events, healthcare facilities, construction sites and environmental remediation. Red Cross First Aid/CPR/AED training is mandated for all employees and must be completed before they are assigned to any site in the nine states in which OPS Security Group operates.

According to Dan Costa, CEO and founder of the company, “You don’t know when you’re going to need an AED, but if you do need it, you want to know how to properly administer and set it up so the machine can do its job.”

Dan Castagna, whose company Emergency Care, Health and Safety, helps train OPS Security Group, affirms, “The AED is extremely effective. The odds of you getting a heart back into a normal sinus rhythm, that if the victim is in ventricular fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia, you need an AED to correct that.”

As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” It’s not just enough to have AEDs available. Training must also be a critical mandate to ensure confidence when a mere matter of minutes can mean the difference between life and a fatality. WMHS

Dom Tolli is Senior Vice President for Product Management and Platform Development at the American Red Cross (redcross.org/training).

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