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Janine Milne

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Health and Safety: businesses need to keep defibrillators to hand

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Defbrillators should become part of regular office equipment, urges an occupational health group. 

A survey of 1,000 UK firms by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) found that more than half of UK businesses do not have a defibrillator, which restarts the heart using an electric shock following cardiac arrest.
 
While six out of 10 small firms said they did not have the machines at their offices, suprisingly, the number was even greater among larger firms.  
 
Despite a modest price tag of just £1,000, two thirds of the medium to very large firms surveyed said they did not have defibrillators.
 
While cost was a factor, the main reasons given for not keeping defibrillators on site were simply that it hadn’t occurred to them or they felt there was no need. 
 
IOSH research and information services manager Jane White said: “We want businesses to take a good look at the number of employees they have, their demographics and the kind of sector they work in, to assess whether they should get a defibrillator on-site.
 
“Using a defibrillator within the first few minutes after collapse gives the best chance of saving a life – it can increase survival rates by as much as 75%. This just proves to businesses how important it is to have the equipment on-site.”
 
The message here is not only an ethical one, it also has financial implications, added White. “Companies also need to consider the impact of losing a member of staff on their fellow employees, factoring in the cost of downtime, counselling and any replacement or training of staff.”
The uptake of defibrillators differed greatly between sectors. While the survey found 65% of manufacturing and engineering environments had defibrillators, the numbers dropped to 44% for office environments, a third for retail while education fared the worst.
 
NHS figures reveal 30,000 British people suffer a cardiac arrest out of hospital every year and fewer than one in five of them survive. US-based research shows 13% of workplace deaths result from cardiac arrests.
 
Global satellite communications services firm Inmarsat now has two defibrillators in its UK headquarters, after a 40-year-old contractor suffered a fatal cardiac arrest in the office. 
 
Lloydeth Newell, Inmarsat health and safety manager, said: “It was hard to argue the case for a defibrillator with management initially, due to concerns about liability and the fact emergency services can, in theory, reach us within six minutes. But one of our contractors had a cardiac arrest at his desk while he was talking to colleagues and tragically, he was pronounced dead in hospital half an hour later. It changed everything…”
 
St John Ambulance offers workplace first aid training, including how to use defibrillators. “It’s important to understand that a person who has had a cardiac arrest will die if they don’t receive emergency treatment, so prompt CPR and use of a defibrillator will give them that chance to survive,” said Clive James, St John Ambulance training and development officer.
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