By Yaseen Hemeda /
For Traci Wells, it started out like any other day in the office. She was standing in line waiting to get her morning cup of coffee when, suddenly, something went terribly wrong.Wells started turning blue, and collapsed. Fortunately, it was first thing in the morning so there were a lot of people around me and somebody started to do CPR, said Wells, senior manager of leadership and skill development at Rogers Communications in Toronto.Quick-thinking employees grabbed an automated external defibrillator (AED) and were able to revive her within four minutes of her collapse. What Wells experienced was a heart attack, which resulted in sudden cardiac arrest, a condition in which the heart stops.My heart had completely stopped so they shocked me twice with the AED which brought my heart back to life, she said.

An AED is a small, portable device that assesses the heart of a person in cardiac arrest for a shockable rhythm. If such a rhythm is detected, a button is pressed to deliver a shock or series of shocks to the victims heart, allowing it to return to a normal rhythm.

Prior to this dramatic event, Wells experienced no warning signs or symptoms and did not have a medical history of heart problems.

Thats why it was so scary, because I did not feel any warning signs and I am still undiagnosed. They don’t know why it happened, said Wells, of the July 9, 2009, event. I just remember walking to work in the morning and that’s it.

Wells attack was the first time an AED was used at Rogers. Wells feels she wouldn’t be alive had her company not invested in AED.

Even if it is only ever used once, the power of being able to save a life is pretty phenomenal, said Wells. This makes me a lot more committed to Rogers. I want to work for a place that cares about people.

Kerry Wallace, senior manager of health and safety at Rogers, said Wells case has elevated the awareness about the need for AEDs in the workplace.

‘We recognized we don’t have them at all our sites and what is the cost of human life?’ said Wallace. You are protecting your human resources and that’s the number one priority to the company. Without our people the company doesn’t exist. It’s an investment in your people.

Rogers is working on an implementation program to have defibrillators installed at every regularly staffed site. Richmond, B.C.-based London Drugs is another company investing rigorously in AEDs. It has defibrillators in every one of its 73 stores across Canada and has trained about 1,000 employees on the proper use of AEDs.

Every London Drugs location will ensure an employee trained in AED use is present when there are customers and staff in the store, said president Wynne Powell, who claims the chain is the first Canadian retailer to put an AED in every location.

But despite examples like Rogers and London Drugs, the reality is AEDs remain relatively uncommon in the workplace, said Laurie Morrison, a medical doctor and a spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Until legislation is mandated that every employer has to have one, then the use of AEDs will be small, she said.

Because Canada does not mandate the use of AEDs, there is no national cardiac arrest database that would document incident rates for the number of AEDs in the workplace or frequency of use.

But cardiac arrest is a significant killer. There are about 40,000 cardiac arrests in Canada every year thats one about every 12 minutes, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation. And less than five per cent of victims who suffer an attack outside a hospital survive and the vast majority (70 per cent) of cardiac arrests occur outside a hospital.

Ontarios Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) reports it has registered an average of 200 claims for acute myocardial infarctions” in laypersons terms a heart attack that occurred in the workplace over the last three years. But not all heart attacks that occur at work are necessarily job related, and the WSIB considers each case on its own merits.

Having an AED onsite can vastly improve a victims chance of survival, said Morrison. With an AED, the chance of survival from cardiac arrest can increase by 75 per cent or more over CPR on its own. Defibrillation is more successful if performed within five minutes of cardiac arrest and the chances of survival decreases up to 10 per cent for every minute that passes after the arrest.

A workplace with 2,000 people and an average age of 40 years can expect at least one incident of cardiac arrest in the workplace each year, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Many employers are not aware of these statistics and education is an important step to fighting workplace complacency, said Morrison.

I think companies are not aware they should have AEDs and don’t know it can save a life. They fear it will be too expensive, she said.

For her part, Morrison is advocating for AEDs to become mandatory in all public places. In Ontario, a private members bill passed second reading in May and, if passed, will make it the first province in Canada to mandate AEDs.

AEDs should be as common as fire extinguishers, said Morrison.

Its sad that we value buildings and structures more than we value human life, she said. The fire extinguisher is going to save the building but an AED can save a life.

Yaseen Hemeda is an HR compliance product writer for Consult Carswell.