Training for Immediate Response

Employers can build a safer workplace through CPR, AED and first aid education.

Every year, some 436,000 people in the United States fall victim to sudden cardiac arrest, with about 10,000 occurring at the workplace. Unfortunately, only about 40 percent of people who experience an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest get the immediate help that they need before professional support arrives. So, unless workers are trained up on an effective approach to CPR safety, odds are the colleague who collapses may not survive. 

But if employees are properly trained, people stricken with a cardiac arrest face much better odds. Studies show that immediate CPR can double or triple a person’s chance of survival.  

The question then becomes how to ensure that your workplace is prepared? Not all workplace safety training emphasizes the same topics or the same approaches to student learning to improve retention of lifesaving skills.  

Occupational health and safety managers should look for courses that prepare employees to provide immediate care to an ill or injured person until the arrival of more advanced medical personnel.  

For example, training should teach employees to use an automated external defibrillator (AED). AEDs are devices that analyze the heart’s rhythm and, if necessary, deliver an electrical shock, known as defibrillation, which helps the heart re-establish an effective rhythm. 

Dan Costa, CEO and founder of OPS Security Group in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, says that having his 700 employees trained on AEDs is essential. The cardiac arrest suffered by Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin during a game this past season “not only proved why it's necessary to have AEDs, but if you do need it, you want to know how to properly administer and set up the AEDs so the machine can do its job,” he says. 

Dan Castagna, whose Philadelphia-based company, Emergency Care, Health & Safety, certifies instructors in Red Cross training, says that AEDs — and rigorous training on how to use them —are vital in the workplace.  

“CPR alone is not going to correct an abnormal heart rhythm. You need the electricity to do so,” he says. “The AED is extremely crucial in with conjunction with CPR.” 

In addition to training employees to recognize signs of cardiac arrest, provide CPR and use an AED, health and safety programs should provide comprehensive training in a range of workplace health emergencies.  

  • Trainees should learn to identify illness and injury that require immediate action, such as severe bleeding, stroke and shock, whether from an injury or an anaphylactic reaction.  
  • Learning good communication skills helps immediate responders handle the necessary steps to treat emergencies without duplication of effort. It also ensures that advanced medical responders are alerted quickly.  
  • In addition to the basics, occupational health and safety managers should consider in-depth add-ons to training such as caring for an asthma attack, using an epinephrine auto-injector in conjunction with anaphylaxis and managing severe bleeding injuries. 

My organization employers a comprehensive workplace First Aid/CPR/AED program that is both OSHA-compliant and can provide employees with a repository of skills making them essential bulwarks against workplace emergencies. It draws upon studies that show that varying learning approaches can improve effectiveness for adults on learning retention.  

Convenience and leveraging the value of peer-to-peer education are important in this kind of training. So our online option can be completed by employees at their convenience and an in-class portion provided by certified instructors in the workplace. Also, being taught by one’s peers is an effective learning approach, so we train employees to teach the course, allowing businesses to provide their own training in-house while supported by high standards and materials. 

The program has an adaptive learning component, where training can be customized to engage each student based on their existing knowledge base. “Some of our students say that adaptive learning is helpful because it allows them to recall what they learned from a previous class,” Castagna says. 

Getting workers ready for medical emergencies 

In an emergency, bystanders can be a critical lifeline until professionals arrive, yet nearly half of U.S. adults are unprepared to help in a medical crisis, according to a recent survey from the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP).  

Further, training is strongly correlated to taking action. Nine-in-10 adults trained in any form of emergency response skill (91 percent) are willing to take action in an emergency, according to the ACEP survey.  

Against this backdrop, my organization and ACEP recently released a course called “Until Help Arrives,” designed to educate and empower bystanders to take action and provide lifesaving care if they are first on the scene during an emergency.  

The 90-minute online course covers five fundamental actions that can be taken during a life-threatening emergency that can help sustain or save a life until EMS arrives:  

  • Hands-only CPR (no breaths) 
  • Automated external defibrillator (AED) use  
  • Choking first aid  
  • Severe bleeding control, including use of a tourniquet 
  • Administering naloxone for an opioid overdose.

An additional tool for training workers in the digital age is through mobile apps. They address the need to vary learning approaches for improving retention and are highly convenient for the learner to access. Employees can download the First Aid app for free to their mobile devices. The app is useful in a real-world situation and for polishing skills. It provides step-by-step instructions to guide employees through everyday first aid scenarios and is integrated with 911 so employees can call EMS from the app.  

It is the fusion of state-of-the-art science and effective training that enables employees to act when confronted with an emergency.  

That’s something safety manager Mike Mathews of Firestone Fibers & Textile in Kings Mountain, N.C., learned in a big way. During a lunch break, Matthews was alerted that an employee was suffering from an asthma attack and seizure, and he quickly gathered a team of Red Cross CPR/AED-trained staff members and went to the person’s aid.  

The employee had no detectable pulse, wasn’t breathing and was turning blue. Mathews retrieved an AED, while two other employees performed rescue breathing and CPR, and a fourth called EMS. The team, which was nominated for a Red Cross award, was able to keep the victim alive until advanced medical help arrived.  

“I am confident that without the actions of these team members and the invaluable American Red Cross First Aid, CPR, and AED training that prepared [my team members], Roy would not have survived,” Matthews said. 

This article originally appeared in the September 2023 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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