Sudden cardiac arrest in the workplace.. what would you do?

There are some things you expect to see when you walk into your office in the morning. Stacks of paper cluttering up your ‘in tray’, notes about employees cleaning their dishes, and left over coffee cups. But imagine if you came in to see one of your employees collapse to the ground. As you rush to their side, you see that they are unconscious, not breathing and with no pulse.

Would you know what to do? For any employer, the health and safety of  employees is a top priority.

While you might be ready to treat small things like a standard paper cut, many workplaces may not be in a position to  manage a major risk facing many Australians today–sudden cardiac arrest.


Sudden cardiac arrest is caused by a malfunction of the electrical impulses that go the heart, stopping it from beating. This is different from a heart attack which is caused by a blockage of the blood flow to the heart.

Many people believe what happens in a heart attack is that the heart stops beating, but this isn’t always the case. A blockage does cause pain and serious symptoms, but it won’t usually cause swift death in the way that a sudden cardiac arrest can.

Estimates suggest that around 15,000 people die unexpectedly in Australia from sudden cardiac arrest every year, equating to approximately 10% of all annual deaths[1] in Australia.

Sudden cardiac arrest is far more dangerous and unpredictable than a heart attack. When somebody has a heart attack, the patient can be awake with their heart still beating, but a victim of sudden cardiac arrest will be completely unresponsive and with no breathing.

For the best chance of recovery from sudden cardiac arrest, CPR and a defibrillator shock needs  to be administered within the first few minutes of somebody collapsing. For every minute that passes without defibrillation, the chance of survival reduces by 10% – potentially making a wait for an ambulance without treatment fatal for the patient.


The defibrillators that you see on TV – with the metal paddles that need to be rubbed together and create a loud kathunk sound when administered – are not what you would be likely to use, despite at least 17% of Australians believing this to be true in recent national consumer research carried out by St John.

In fact, the defibrillators that you’re more likely to see in offices or public areas contain two electrode pads that are used to “sandwich the heart” and detect if a shock should be safely administered to return the heart to its regular rhythm. It might not be quite as dramatic, but we can assure you it is effective.

Despite the belief held by 42% of survey participants that you require expert training to operate a defibrillator device, they can actually be used by anyone – most modern defibrillators have simple audio instructions that can be  followed  by anyone.

In the event of a sudden cardiac arrest the correct response follows the ‘DRSABCD’ (Danger, Response, Send for help, Airway, Breathing, CPR, Defibrillation) model with CPR administered prior to a potential shock from a defibrillator. This is why it is recommended that a person who is up to date with their First Aid training and confident in their ability to perform CPR first takes the lead.


If you’re surrounded by young, fit and healthy employees then it’s easy to think you’re not at risk, but sudden cardiac arrest can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. It does not discriminate. It is not enough to cross your fingers and hope that it never happens in your office – being unprepared for sudden cardiac arrest can cost people’s lives.

Ensuring that a sufficient number of employees – or ideally, all – are trained in current First Aid practices is the first step towards having a prepared office. As such, it’s just as important to know that having a defib device in your office does not remove the need for adequate First Aid training.

By law, employers are required to provide a safe working environment – this includes having the correct equipment, procedures and facilities needed to uphold a safe workplace for all employees at all times.

While a defibrillator unit is not required by law like fire extinguishers and basic First Aid kits, their benefits can literally be the difference between life and death.

You may never know when a sudden cardiac arrest will strike, but there are some simple steps you can follow to ensure your employees stand the best possible chance of surviving a workplace emergency. Don’t wait until it’s too late to make your move – install a defibrillator and train as many people in your workplace as you can in First Aid.

Anthony Hasphall is the Training Manager for St John Ambulance Victoria.

Businesses can visit the St John Ambulance Victoria website for more information. With defibrillators being fully tax deductible assets, there’s never been a better time to get prepared.

Business First is a peer-to-peer magazine: written by CEOs and other high level executives, with interviews with some of the country’s best leaders.

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