Message Received

"It's not only the right thing to do. . . . Employees have a good feeling about the organization taking the initiative to do this."

Editor's note: Don't overlook the message you send to employees by deploying automated external defibrillators. They can be a powerful symbol of a company's commitment to its workforce and its culture, as Teradyne Inc.'s Loren Eaton, vice president of human resources, and Andy Porter, manager of corporate communications, pointed out in a Feb. 9, 2006, conversation with Occupational Health & Safety's editor. Excerpts from the conversation follow.

You're a high-tech company. AEDs are fairly high-tech products, but I think they're somewhat off-putting to people who might have to use them. What are your workers saying about them? How have they been received at your sites?

Loren Eaton: Yes, we are a high-tech company. But in terms of the actual product, the defibrillators, they're very easy to use. They're very user-friendly, so really, whether or not we're a high-tech company doesn't play into it.

In addition to that, when we're rolling those out across the world, we're also rolling them out with a training component. Before they go into any office, the training schedule is set. A subset of employees there are trained on the defibrillators.

Various organizations conduct training on these. Are you using the American Heart Association's training?

Eaton: We have a subcontractor group. Zoll has the defibrillators, but I think they subcontract for the training.

How many devices are we talking about? How many facilities and how many countries?

Eaton: We're talking about 47 sites across the world. And we're deploying 60 units in those 47 sites. Some sites will have multiple units. Our goal was that within three minutes' response time, we would be able to get a defibrillator to any of our employees at any of those sites. So at some of the sites we have multiple units.

Three minutes is admirable for that many sites in that many places. How many countries are we talking about?

Andy Porter: Probably about 20 countries, if I think about Asia, Europe, and the United States.

Eaton: It's somewhere around 20 to 25. Twenty-five is probably a good number.

Okay. And this deployment rollout happened in all of them, all at once?

Eaton: Well, it's rolling out, and it's continuing. One of the things we ran into at some of the Asian sites and also some European sites is just issues around import. Some of the countries weren't that familiar with the devices. . . . And in a couple of countries we're still dealing with [other] issues. For instance, in France, they require that a physician administer one of these devices. We're not even sure if we'll get around that one.

Do you mean administer as in prescribe? Because that had been required here, as well.

Eaton: Prescribe and use. You need a physician to use the device, at this point. That was unique.

Yes, I'm not familiar with that one. They must not have any serious deployment of AEDs in that country at all, if that's their law.

Eaton: That's true. In many countries they don't. We're kind of the leading edge here as we're moving forward.

This may be groundbreaking. If you can get countries that aren't familiar with these or don't welcome them to sit up and take notice, that might be good.

Eaton: Yes, I think so. It could be helpful.

I'm doing a quick thumbnail: You're talking about maybe a hundred employees per site? Is that what the rough average would be?

Eaton: There's wide variation. In some sites we have a thousand. . . . When we started out, we said, any place we have more than two employees, we're going to put one of these devices. You have sites where you have perhaps eight or 10 employees.

Please tell me how this philosophy came about. The three minutes, for instance, and also that commitment to equip any place with two or more.

Eaton: Let's see, it started back in the summer of 2003. We were doing some planning for the Democratic National Convention in Boston. And we had a concern about our facilities in Boston because we figured maybe the emergency vehicles would have a hard time getting to our buildings. That drove our initial involvement with defibrillators. So we had put them in our buildings in Boston.

Subsequent to that, we had an experience with an employee where we used a defibrillator. According to the physicians at the hospital, it ended up saving his life. That really got our attention as to the importance of this subject.

We escalated it within the corporate group here, put together a plan, and said, "Look, this doesn't make sense. One life is important; for the fairly small cost of this. . . ." We just made a quick decision to put together a plan and roll these out.

That prompts the question, what is the cost? What are you going to spend on the training, deployment, and maintenance of these units?

Eaton: With training, I think it's about $2,000 per unit. I think when you get through with the whole thing, it probably cost us about $150,000 across the company, wouldn't you say, Andy?

Porter: If you add in shipping. Yes, something like that.

That's pretty minimal, as you say. While losing even one person is costly--financially and psychologically. The person whose life was saved--was that an employee? A visitor?

Eaton: An employee.

Did he or she return to work?

Eaton: He did return to work and subsequently decided to retire. As a matter of fact, it was interesting: We got an e-mail from the individual just this week, thanking us for the last year. About a year ago today, it occurred. So he sent an e-mail to some of the folks in the security force, thanking them and talking about his grandchildren.

Porter: The timeline was, it was 2004 that we hosted the Democratic National Convention in Boston, so that's when we got them for Boston. So it was February of 2005 when we used it.

Did you make the commitment to do this companywide before this person's life was saved or after?

Eaton: It was after. That really just crystallized the whole point. We said, "Gee, we wouldn't want to sit here and know that we could've saved an employee's life for a pretty small expense [but didn't]."

Our magazine has published many articles about these devices. I don't believe the greater public knows much about them yet. They see them in airports, but I don't know whether they're paying attention. Did it get much notice when you made this decision? Did other companies knock on your door and ask about what you were doing?

Porter: It made at least one of the Boston dailies and a couple of other smaller papers. . . . I don't know if companies have knocked on our door or not. But I do know, from the perspective of how easy these things are to use, I sat through a demo of them a couple of times. And it's amazing how these devices just walk you through the right thing to do and talk you through it.

The thing that struck me wasn't necessarily the size or cost, but the fact that you can't really make a mistake. It's do this or don't do this. It was pretty amazing to see how easy it is to use.

Yes, that has impressed me, too. There are some units now--really for EMS and hospital personnel--that have a component to walk you through CPR. These are defibrillators that are even more functional than the kind industrial companies might deploy. They're really getting very capable. They tell you what to do, and people do follow.

Eaton: I suspect it won't be that long before we begin to see these in homes. . . . Once they get the cost down, probably [to] $500 or $700.

Porter: Another interesting thing was, when we first proposed doing this, Loren pushed this, there was uniform acceptance that this is the right thing to do. Right up the chain, we didn't really get any pushback from senior managers. It was, "Yes, we ought to do this. This is the right thing to do."

In the end, it's not only the right thing to do, but it's a good thing to do for the employees. And employees have a good feeling about the organization taking the initiative to do this.

So it's kind of serving two good purposes: One is, it's the right thing to do to save lives. And the second is, it's good on having people really feel that the company is concerned about their welfare in a bunch of different ways.

It's a good way to send that message. Tell me, are the two of you trained on these? Are you training a lot of managers at Teradyne on them?

Porter: I am not. But I think we have people designated at each location.

Eaton: Right. Every location has employees designated [and a team leader].

We were discussing how the machines are so good at prompting what the users should do. You've got some machines in foreign countries: Do they all prompt in English? Do some employees need other languages?

Eaton: For the most part, we have English-speaking people in all our facilities. Or enough are bilingual so that's not an issue for us. Most of the work in technology is done in English; that's kind of one advantage that we have over some other types of companies. I don't think we have a location in the world that doesn't have some ability to speak English.

You mentioned the situation in France. Did you encounter other barriers in foreign countries that were surprising?

Eaton: It was surprising, the questioning we got on importing sometimes. Importing them was not as easy as we had thought. We'd work around those. But as you literally try to get them into the countries, you get a lot of questions and some hold-ups.

Nothing in the way the machines were configured was a problem, the power they run on, battery importing, anything like that?

Eaton: Zoll has pretty well helped us with that. It's just an unusual product that raises questions.

Having these can lower insurance premiums. Have you seen that, or do you expect to?

Eaton: To be honest with you, that wasn't part of our thinking when we implemented the program. I would hope over time that would help us, but it certainly wasn't in our thinking.

What response capability did you have before you deployed these devices?

Eaton: At the highest level, we have safety teams in all of our major facilities. And usually in our remote facilities there's some individual designated to have the local telephone number of the emergency room or whatever.

Right. That's what I was getting at: You have people who'd respond, but they would basically call the local hospital or ambulance service?

Eaton: They'd call outsiders, right. And we always have people trained in CPR at our major facilities.

I wanted to ask whether you consider the program a success, but that must be obvious because you've saved someone already.

Eaton: Yes, it's a huge success.

Porter: We had a recognition ceremony for the team of people that helped save this employee's life, with our CEO. It was just a little reception in our conference room. The gentleman we saved and his wife came in and again personally thanked the team of people who responded. His wife was just thanking everybody.

It was rewarding and terrific to have that feedback, that it really did have a huge impact. So that alone . . . and then to get this e-mail saying that he's enjoying his grandkids. It's great.

I agree, it's wonderful. As for the team, were these everyday employees who were on it and stepped in?

Eaton: Yes.

It's something I always ask about: whether people, even with training, will in fact step in and act. When you do the training, obviously you want people to intervene when they should. Is there anything about the cultures of places where your sites are located where that's uncommon? Where people don't think that way?

Eaton: No. Just to organize this, in terms of deployment, is no small issue. And we've had really good response in terms of employees volunteering and pleased that we're doing this. Willing to get trained. Willing to step up. I would say that, certainly from that response, we really have no concerns.

Once the individual employee is trained and they see how really easy it is, that really overcomes any kind of concern they have. . . .

Teradyne employees are action-oriented anyway. One of our values is that we really have a good record of responding to our customers' concerns. And that goes the same with employees. I think it's part of our culture. We're giving them the tools, and certainly if this happens again, I wouldn't be surprised if we have exactly the same outcome that we had last year.

That's a great answer. The culture is crucial. And that's why they value the decision to deploy the AEDs, I'm sure.

Eaton: Right. We're just excited about the fact that we've been able to pull this off. [It was] probably one of the better employee relations activities we had last year, and it's going well.

You talk about a high-tech company, but we often talk about the fact that our assets go home every night. Many companies always say their employees are the most important, but in a high-tech company like Teradyne, it really is true. Our products change so often, the dynamics of the business out there force us to come up with new products continually, and we're always in the middle of dynamics like that. It really is true that our employees are our most important asset.

So when we can ever back it up with something like this, send those messages and save even one life, it's just very rewarding to be able to do that.

This Q&A appeared in the June 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the June 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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