Imagine this scenario. On the way to your desk, you notice a colleague approaching. You’re about to say hello when your colleague suddenly collapses on the floor. Your first thought is that he or she has suffered cardiac arrest, and you rush to offer assistance. But you don’t have a clue how to respond.

In too many cases, no one does.

Have an emergency response plan
Only about one of three cardiac-arrest victims receives bystander cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Calling for help is the next best thing, but the seconds that pass before help arrives can be costly. Without CPR, a cardiac arrest victim’s chances of survival fall 7 to 10 percent for each minute that passes before receiving defibrillation.

In a perfect world, every workplace would have immediate access to emergency medical services (EMS). But you don’t need a healthcare professional on staff to respond to a cardiac emergency. By implementing a workplace emergency response plan, employees can learn techniques and procedures to save a colleague’s life.

Components of an effective workplace emergency response plan include:
  • A qualified program coordinator;
  • Employees trained to apply lifesaving techniques and carry out procedures;
  • Up-to-date training materials that are compliant with state and local automated external defibrillator (AED) laws;
  • Written guidelines and procedures that are available to all program participants;
  • The approval and support of management and other key decision-makers.
Choose a coordinator
Your program coordinator should be an on-site employee who is willing to take responsibility for day-to-day program activities. Coordinators have two key roles. First, and most importantly, they help select and guide other employees through CPR/AED training. Any workplace can provide AEDs, but these are useless if employees don’t know how to use them. While as many employees as possible should be trained, consider especially employees who are typically on the premises, who already assist others as part of their job, and who are already trained in CPR.

The second important role of the coordinator is to stay in constant contact with management and other key decision-makers, non-responder employees, and the public, keeping them apprised of program developments and soliciting their feedback.

A compliant curriculum
When selecting a training program, be sure it is compliant with state and local AED requirements. Most states specify their requirements for responder training and also outline the proper steps for renewing your program. For example, most state laws require that you register with local EMS, and that trainees complete a nationally recognized CPR/AED course. You should also be familiar with your state’s Good Samaritan laws — these laws provide varying degrees of immunity for lay rescuers.

Once you’re ready to begin training, initial course time should focus on key objectives such as recognizing the warning signs of cardiac arrest, knowing when to contact EMS, assessing the patient, implementing CPR steps, and properly using AED. Participants should also be trained in your workplace’s internal medical emergency response procedures.

Offering online CPR training courses is an option that can provide flexibility for people with busy schedules, but be sure to select a course that includes a hands-on component. CPR is a psychomotor skill — it takes hands-on practice to ensure that the skills become automatic.

After the initial training, responders should take part in skills practice to make sure they are prepared to respond to emergencies. Responders should perform mock drills, practice activating the emergency response system, and be able to demonstrate CPR and AED skills. Following this, employees should take part in formal retraining at least once every two years in addition to participating in regular skills reviews.

Put it in writing
All workplace emergency-response plans should be accompanied by written procedures that outline the steps to be taken during and after a workplace emergency. Written procedures should answer emergency response questions such as:
  • How are responders notified of an emergency? (directly, by phone, by an overhead paging system?)
  • Who should call 911?
  • Where are AEDs located and how are they activated?
  • What should responders do once EMS arrives? Written procedures should also address program maintenance questions such as:
  • Which employees are possible candidates for responder training?
  • What type of training best fits the needs of my organization? First aid, bloodborne pathogen safety, or CPR/AED courses all may be considered.
  • Who is responsible for performing maintenance checks?
  • How are AEDs put back into service after an emergency?
  • Who is responsible for ordering and restocking supplies?
  • Who is responsible for arranging and scheduling training?
By following these guidelines you will be able to develop a response plan that makes it possible to deal efficiently — and safely — with cardiac emergencies that might arise in your organization.