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  • What is cardiac arrest?
  • What are Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs)?
  • Who can use an AED?
  • AEDs as a risk control

What is cardiac arrest?

Cardiac arrest is when a person's heart suddenly stops pumping. Cardiac arrest can happen to anyone, regardless of age or health and it can happen in any workplace.

A person in cardiac arrest will fall unconscious and will not be breathing normally. This is because blood is not being pumped through the heart to the brain, lungs or other organs.

Different from a heart attack

A cardiac arrest is different from a heart attack. A person in sudden cardiac arrest will fall unconscious and will not be breathing normally. A person having a heart attack will usually be conscious and report symptoms such as the feeling of pain or heavy pressure in their chest or arms, that may spread to their neck, jaw or back. They may also feel a cold sweat and/or nausea. A heart attack can progress into a cardiac arrest.

Death from cardiac arrest will happen within minutes if a person is not treated. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and defibrillation via an Automated Electrical Defibrillator (AED) are proven interventions that can effectively treat cardiac arrest.

What are AEDs?

CPR, or chest compressions, pushes blood and oxygen around a person’s body. In many cases of cardiac arrest, the heart is in a rapid, disorganised and irregular rhythm, called ventricular fibrillation. While the heart is still in this condition, its activity is disorganised (quivering) to the point that no effective contraction can occur. An AED sends a measured electric shock (defibrillation) through a person’s heart. When electrical activity resumes, the aim is for the heart to return back to the usual coordinated fashion and effective pumping can occur.  An AED will not administer a shock to a person’s heart if it is not needed.

Who can use an AED?

Anyone can use an AED on someone who is suspected of being in cardiac arrest. You do not need specialised AED training to use an AED. When calling triple 000 to seek emergency assistance, the operator will direct the caller to use an AED if it is available.

AEDs use voice prompts and pictures to guide the operator to administer a shock if needed. It also tells you when to stop and restart CPR.

Very few people survive a cardiac arrest without immediate assistance. The use of an AED can improve the chances of a person’s survival dramatically.

AEDs as a risk control

As an employer, you must, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. This includes providing adequate facilities for the welfare of employees at workplaces under their control.

You should consider whether it is reasonably practicable to have an AED on site to manage the risk of death from cardiac arrest in the workplace. An AED can be a risk control in addition to other risk control measures, such as having an appointed first aid officer.

When deciding whether it is reasonable for your workplace to have an AED onsite, consider the likelihood that someone will suffer a cardiac arrest in your workplace.

The WorkSafe publication A handbook for workplaces: Controlling OHS hazards and risks, 2017, provides an outline of the risk management process.

Consider installing an AED in addition to existing first aid procedures, such as having a trained first aider and first aid kits at the workplace. AEDs should be installed in well-known, visible and accessible locations. They should not be locked.

Registration of AEDs in the workplace with Ambulance Victoria helps reduce the time taken to find an AED in an emergency.

Register my AED with Ambulance Victoria

Your workplace should also consider formal first aid training for all employees. Formal first aid training should include information on how to administer CPR and use AEDs.

Contact the WorkSafe Victoria Advisory service on 1800 136 089 for further information.

Note: This guidance material has been prepared using the best information available to WorkSafe, and should be used for general use only. Any information about legislative obligations or responsibilities included in this material is only applicable to the circumstances described in the material. You should always check the legislation referred to in this material and make your own judgement about what action you may need to take to ensure you have complied with the law. Accordingly, WorkSafe cannot be held responsible and extends no warranties as to the suitability of the information for your specific circumstances; or actions taken by third parties as a result of information contained in the guidance material.