Cardiac arrest and defibrillators: A quick guide for workplaces

Cardiac arrest and defibrillators: A quick guide for workplaces
27 July 2021

What is cardiac arrest?

Cardiac arrest is the term given to the sudden loss of heart function. The heart is no longer pumping blood and oxygen around to the vital organs of the body. Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is an electrical disturbance in the heart that prevents it from beating properly. During SCA, the heart ventricles flutter in a phenomenon known as ventricular fibrillation, making them unable to deliver blood to the body. The heart responds by quivering, rather than beating in a normal fashion. A cardiac arrest is different to a heart attack where a person is awake and has symptoms such as pain in the chest, difficulty breathing, nausea or feeling light-headed.

Anyone is at risk?

There are no warning signs associated with SCA. It often affects those who have experienced previous episodes of SCA, heart attacks, or heart failure; but it can also strike someone with absolutely no history of heart problems.

Signs of a cardiac arrest are present when a person is:

  • unconscious
  • unresponsive
  • has no pulse
  • has absent or abnormal breathing.

How common is cardiac arrest?

Over 8,500 people experience an out of hospital cardiac arrest in NSW every year. Only 12% will survive. For every minute that passes after a person has a cardiac arrest, the chance of survival decreases 10%. Quick action could save a life.

What actions can be taken to survive an out of hospital cardiac arrest?

Anyone can try to save the life of someone who has experienced a cardiac arrest by acting quickly to restore the heart beat with CPR and defibrillation. If you believe someone has suffered a cardiac arrest, take immediate action:

  • call Triple Zero (000) for an ambulance
  • push hard and fast in the centre of the chest to start CPR
  • shock using a defibrillator as soon as possible to restart the heart , if one is available.

What is cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)?

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is the technique of chest compressions combined with rescue breathing. Early CPR saves lives. The Australian and New Zealand Committee on Resuscitation recommends that bystander CPR be actively encouraged. Resuscitation using the steps DRSABCD should be followed for cardiac arrest and is taught in all first aid courses in Australia. It is important that first aid skills are up to date.

What is a defibrillator?

A defibrillator (known as an automated external defibrillator or AED) is a small, portable device designed to deliver a controlled electrical shock to a person experiencing certain cardiac rhythms. Defibrillators must be used in conjunction with CPR.

  • Anyone can use a defibrillator – they have verbal and visual instructions to guide you.
  • You cannot hurt someone by using a defibrillator.
  • A defibrillator only shocks a person who is in cardiac arrest.

Acknowledgements: Michael Hughes Foundation and NSW Ambulance.

Defibrillator as a business risk control

As an employer, you must, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. This includes providing adequate facilities for the welfare of employees at workplaces under their control.

You should consider whether it is reasonably practicable to have a defibrillator on site to manage the risk of death from cardiac arrest in the workplace. A defibrillator can be a risk control in addition to other risk control measures, such as having an appointed first aid officer.

When deciding whether it is reasonable for your workplace to have a defibrillator onsite, consider the likelihood that someone will suffer a cardiac arrest in your workplace.

The WorkSafe publication A handbook for workplaces: Controlling OHS hazards and risks, 2017, provides an outline of the risk management process.

Consider installing a defibrillator in addition to existing first aid procedures, such as having a trained first aider and first aid kits at the workplace. Defibrillators should be installed in well-known, visible and accessible locations. They should not be locked.

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