As the safety coordinator of Uline’s Chicago-based distribution warehouse, Scott Barthuly takes employee emergency training very seriously.

Every other year, all first responders on staff in the large shipping and industrial supplies distributor for the Midwest receive training in First Aid, CPR and AED use. The training for the 80 employees is then followed up with two types of refreshers. In one, all employees are notified in advance when the refresher will be held and what skills it will burnish. In the other, the trainers spring an unannounced faux “emergency” on the staff.

Not a drill

But one fateful day, employees sprang into action when a truck driver at the distribution center collapsed unconscious. It was not a drill. The driver was having a stroke.

“In this incident, beyond providing aid to the driver, we sent people to keep crowd away, we sent people to get the ambulance. It all worked perfectly,” Barthuly said, adding that the driver recovered thanks to the staff’s speedy response.

The sad truth is that the emergency training at Uline is the exception among many major industries.

Two new surveys commissioned by the American Heart Association highlight troubling results across U.S. industries, indicating that employees are unprepared for medical emergencies in the workplace.

Where’s the training?

Among the top findings, the surveys found that most American employees have not received Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and Automated External Defibrillator (AED) training on the job, even though safety managers recognize the importance.

As many as 10,000 cardiac arrests occur annually in the workplace, with the chances of survival at just five to seven percent before emergency medical responders arrive. Immediate intervention can make a huge difference. A victim receiving CPR from a trained bystander can double or even triple the chances of survival. Those who receive immediate defibrillation have up to a 60-percent survival rate one year after cardiac arrest.

But survey results show that although employees and safety managers alike recognize the value of training, good intentions have failed to translate into comprehensive First Aid, CPR+AED employee training.  

The first AHA-commissioned survey targeted 500 general industry/labor employees, a majority in construction or manufacturing. The results underscore the training gap:

  • 46 percent report that their employers do not offer any First Aid or CPR+AED training whatsoever.
  • Just over one-third report having received First Aid or CPR+AED training through their current employer.
  • 56 percent of respondents said that they do not know the location of the AED in their workplace.
  • Finally, more than two in five employees do not feel it necessary to familiarize themselves with the location of AEDs in public areas such as airports and large-scale public venues.  

Passing the buck

In one of the most telling results, employees also demonstrated a surprising false sense of security: despite the reported lack of training, employees believe they or someone in the workplace will know how to perform CPR+AED or First Aid in the event of an emergency.

Michael Kurz, MD, an AHA volunteer and associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine in the Department of Emergency Medicine, said that “the data suggests these untrained employees may be relying on their untrained peers in the event of an emergency.”

This leaves employees “with a false sense of security that someone in the workplace will be qualified and able to respond, when that is clearly not the case,” said Kurz.

The second AHA-commissioned survey conducted in February and March of 2017 gathered responses from 1,052 environmental health and safety managers and human resource managers across a variety of industries including manufacturing and construction.

A known value

The good news is that safety managers intrinsically value First Aid or CPR+AED training in the workplace:

  • 78 percent of managers believe it is “very important” that employees receive the training.
  • Another 73 percent say they consider First Aid, CPR + AED training equally important as other safety training.
  • More than one-third of managers believe more frequent First Aid, CPR+AED training would be valuable.
  • More than 36 percent also felt it would be valuable to offer training more frequently than the current requirement that stipulates training every two years.  

Safety managers also seemed highly aware of the impact of workplace training in and outside of employment hours:

  • About one-third of managers reported that a life had been saved both in and outside of the workplace due to proper First Aid and CPR+AED training provided by their organization.
  • 75 percent reported that injuries or medical conditions were successfully treated in the workplace – and nearly half recalled a situation outside of the workplace – thanks to proper training.

Too many organizations are waiting for tragedy to strike before instituting training: 33 percent of managers stated that an incident in the workplace contributed to their decision to offer First Aid and CPR+AED training. Instead of waiting for a serious incident, the AHA encourages business to proactively foster a safe work environment, one that empowers employees to assume small social responsibility that can have a large community impact.

Despite the training gaps, managers believe that training will increase. Two-thirds of managers feel training will become part of a larger culture of safety within organizations. And more than 30 percent are hopeful that attitudes toward training in the workplace are changing overall due to federal and state policy and regulatory requirements and the greater convenience of online training.

  As the world’s leading voluntary health organization devoted to fighting cardiovascular disease, the AHA sees the survey results as a powerful call to action.

More trained employees will mean thousands of co-workers every year will have an increased chance of surviving a cardiac event in the workplace. Since more than 350,000 Americans are victims of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest every year, this training will have a potent secondary effect.

“First Aid, CPR and AED training need to become part of a larger culture of safety within workplaces,” said Kurz.

A real-life example is Uline’s Chicago warehouse, where trainers have built an extensive library of 14 scenarios of the most likely workplace medical emergencies – and then they train staff to manage each one. Barthuly introduced the scenario training in Chicago, and it was so successful that other Uline locations now use it to keep training chops sharp.