Consumers wouldnt think twice about avoiding an automobile with no seat belts. Seat belt use is common sense and common practice. Its also the law in many states, where interstate highways advocate the motto, “Seat Belts Save Lives.”

Similarly, a modern lifesaving technology–the automated external defibrillator–should be equally as accessible in the workplace.

The small, laptop device, which can weigh as little as five pounds, is the only definitive treatment for sudden cardiac arrest, a life-threatening condition where the heart loses its normal rhythm, stops pumping blood, and goes into a dangerous quivering state termed “fibrillation.” The AED delivers a defibrillation countershock to restart the hearts normal rhythm.

The American Red Cross strongly advocates the widespread deployment of defibrillators, particularly in the workplace and places of public occupancy.

The federal government estimates that about 61 million Americans suffer from cardiovascular disease, which causes about one million deaths each year. About 300,000 to 400,000 of these deaths are the direct result of sudden cardiac arrest. About 400 workers die on the job each year due to sudden cardiac arrest, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

It doesnt have to be that way. Whenever victims are treated immediately with defibrillation, their rate of survival dramatically increases. But time is critical since defibrillation must be applied within minutes of cardiac arrest.

The American Heart Association, the American College of Sports Medicine and other groups agree that the use of a defibrillator in the first minutes after cardiac arrest can boost the survival rate to as much as 90%.

The odds of survival drop to less than 2% after only 10 minutes. Since it takes the average emergency medical service team six to 12 minutes to arrive on the scene, an on-site AED literally can be a lifesaver.

Medical studies show that AEDs are extremely safe, effective and easy to use. Even workers who have not had time to go through the recommended training have saved the lives of colleagues or others.

More than 80,000 automated defibrillators already are deployed in airports, schools, golf courses and many public facilities across the country. Thats just a small percentage of the number needed.

To help bridge that gap, The Hartford has teamed with Medtronic Physio-Control, one of the countrys top manufacturers of AEDs, to help boost the number of defibrillators in the workplace and reduce the number of workplace deaths due to sudden cardiac arrest.

The “HartSense” program makes AEDs considerably more affordable to enable more workplaces, public buildings and other places where people gather to purchase the devices and keep them on site, ready to use.

The Hartford has already begun implementing its own AED program, deploying some 70 Medtronic LIFEPAK 500 AEDs in its headquarters and in field offices throughout the country, and training staff how to use the device.

Rescuers who use the LIFEPAK 500 AED place the two self-adhesive pads on the victims chest and activate the unit. The device then applies a sophisticated algorithm to analyze the victims heart rhythm and detect a potentially lethal irregular heartbeat.

If the algorithm detects a “shockable” rhythm, the AED recommends a defibrillation shock and delivers it through the electrode pads on the victim. Throughout the entire process, the AED produces audible voice prompts and screen displays to guide any user through the defibrillation process.

Although some businessowners and risk managers have shared their concern that implementing an AED program could increase their liability exposure, the devices actually may protect the company from lawsuits. Several lawsuits have already been brought against businesses for not having an AED on site.

Moreover, those who use or purchase an AED may be granted some form of immunity from liability under state

“Good Samaritan” statutes or under the federal Cardiac Arrest Survival Act (42 U.S.C.A. Section 238q).

The Hartford not only urges businesses to purchase defibrillators, but strongly advises companies to implement training programs for employees.

An effective AED program should include a centralized management system that also is integrated into an overall emergency preparedness plan for the workplace.

The manager overseeing the program should coordinate with local emergency medical services and conduct periodic reviews and quality assurance of the devices.

It is also important for the program manager to stay current on all federal, state and local regulations affecting AEDs.

The answer to whether a company should purchase an AED for the workplace really is as basic as strapping on a seat belt before driving an automobile. Defibrillators have been proven to save lives, and lives are the most precious company asset of all.

Even if the device is never needed, it sends a message to employees that the company cares about their safety and their life. It gives employees the security of knowing that if they, or someone else on the premises, were to experience sudden cardiac arrest this easy-to-use life-saving tool is close at hand.

That kind of protection is priceless.

Alan T. Relyea is executive technical consultant for loss control services at The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. in Hartford, Conn.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, September 23, 2002. Copyright 2002 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.