Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) takes a tragic toll on families and communities every year, with nearly 1,000 Americans losing their lives to this sudden killer every day. According to OSHA, 13 percent of workplace deaths are due to SCA. Although many companies are implementing automated external defibrillator (AED) programs as part of their health, safety and employee benefits packages, there is still a great deal to be done in the fight against this leading cause of death.

An AED brings potentially lifesaving defibrillation onsite where it can be provided at the scene, along with CPR, before the emergency medical services team arrives. An AED is very simple for anyone with minimal training to use, and can enable treatment to be given within minutes. (The American Heart Association recommends CPR and defibrillation within five minutes of arrest or sooner.)

Early defibrillation saves lives. Although not everyone can survive sudden cardiac arrest, survival rates as high as 74 percent are possible when defibrillation is provided within three minutes of collapse, up from the mere 5 percent that usually survive.

Your program

When designing your AED program, the following key areas must be addressed: decide how many AEDs are needed and where to place them; identify your response team and provide CPR and AED training; and decide how to manage the details of the program. You may also wish to contact your emergency medical services and/or local hospital for advice about compatibility with their systems and about manufacturers whose products and services can best meet your needs.

How many AEDs and where to place them — AEDs must be strategically placed so they can be readily available to everyone in your workplace. This is important because the chances of survival decrease by 7 percent to 10 percent every minute defibrillation is delayed.

When determining the number of AEDs needed and their locations, consider placing them in high-risk areas such as heavy-traffic areas, remote locations and exercise facilities. AEDs must be clearly visible and easily accessible. Locating them near a phone makes it easier to activate the internal response team and local EMS. Alarmed AED wall cabinets are also available that can alert your facility’s main office or call 9-1-1. A thorough site assessment before AED placement is highly recommended.

Recruiting and training your response team — There are certain staff members who are logical choices for serving on your first-responder team, such as those who already provide medical services (occupational health nurses). Also, make sure that you train people who are available when employees are working extended hours or swing shifts, such as supervisors, security officers and custodial staff. You may have people on your staff who already have advanced first-aid or lifeguard training and may be interested in participating. Be sure to replace members as turnover occurs.

You may wish to offer courses taught onsite by an independent company, or have your rescuers attend classes that meet the guidelines of a nationally recognized program such as the American Heart Association, American Red Cross or the National Safety Council. Also, some vendors include training as part of their overall AED program package and provide notification when refresher training is due.

Managing your AED program — Some companies assign one individual to have overall responsibility for their AED program. One element of this management is keeping good records about those trained and refresher training dates, as well as turnover of personnel. Retraining should occur at least every two years and sooner if equipment policies or procedures change. Computer-based refresher training is a useful tool that can keep skills sharp in-between hands-on training. One such program is AED Challenge™, which is validated as an effective learning tool. For a demo download of the program, visit

Some manufacturers help manage every aspect of an AED program. This can include medical prescription and direction, site assessment, customer support and toll-free hotlines for non-emergency questions. Other services may include state registration and notification, tracking AED program details such as when training has been completed and general maintenance and supply replenishment.

Preparing is caring

Sudden cardiac arrest impacts many people — the affected person, those at the scene, families and communities. Knowing your company is prepared for SCA can give you peace of mind, help employees feel valued and enhance your company’s reputation as a good corporate citizen that cares about its employees and visitors.

Sidebar: Did you know… facts about Sudden Cardiac Arrest:

  • SCA claims the lives of nearly 1,000 people every day.
  • Survival rates drop 7 percent to 10 percent every minute without defibrillation.
  • The American Heart Association recommends CPR and defibrillation within five minutes or sooner.
  • It takes most emergency medical services six to 12 minutes to arrive.
  • With an effective AED program and defibrillation within three minutes of arrest, survival rates as high as 74 percent are possible (up from 5 percent that usually survive).