What Is an AED and Does Your Office Need One?

Automated External Defibrillator (AED) Box on the Mat in Emergency CPR Training Course – First Aid Concept

Insert Grey’s Anatomy trauma scene:

“We’re losing him!”


“Not yet we’re not! Clear!”

And with a few dramatic electric shocks to the heart, the patient takes in the breath of life and loud monitors come back to life. All the while we are sitting at home wondering what we would do in the same situation.

These situations don’t limit themselves to emergency rooms and dramatic television shows. At any moment, someone could suffer cardiac arrest and need this life-saving procedure. For this reason, you’ll find a portable AED machine in most businesses today. 

But what is an AED, how do you use one, and what are the legal regulations for having one in the workplace? 

Read on to have all of these questions and more answered.

What Is an AED?

An AED, or automated external defibrillator, is used when a person goes into sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). The AED shoots an electric shock through the body and straight into the heart. 

The electric shock is used to stop an irregular heartbeat and restart the heart back to a normal rhythm.

SCA often results from ventricular fibrillation (VF), which is A non-rhythmic, rapid heartbeat. It is said that a person’s survival rate drops by 10% for every minute in VF. 

AEDs are incredibly important because they make it possible to respond to SCA and VF situations as quickly as possible.

When Should You Use an AED?

When an arrhythmia occurs, blood flow to the brain and other vital organs will stop. Lack of blood flow means oxygen is not getting to your brain, which can result in death within minutes. If a person does survive SCA, they may have permanent damage to the brain or other organs. In other words, it is critical to restore the heart’s rhythmic beating as quickly as possible. 

If someone near you is showing signs of a heart attack, even if their heart is still beating, it’s a good idea to get the AED out and ready just in case. AED’s should only be used if the victim has fallen unconscious.

Signs and symptoms of heart attack are as follows:

  • Uncomfortable squeezing or pressure pains in the center of the chest
  • Pain spreading from the chest to one or both arms, shoulders, jaw, back, or upper abdomen
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Nausea

Always call 911 if you think a person may be having a heart attack.

How Do You Use an AED?

AEDs are relatively easy to use, as they were designed for use by the general public. Many AED‘s will have vocal prompts that will instruct you step-by-step how to use the device. Additionally, the operator of the 911 call will be able to instruct you step-by-step how to use the machine.

But just in case, here are the basic steps:

  1. Always call 911 first. 
  2. Check the person for breathing and pulse rate (or lack thereof).
  3. Instruct another bystander to retrieve the AED while you start CPR.
  4. Position the victim so they are lying flat on their back. Remove any clothing covering the chest, which does include bras.
  5. Place the electrode pads on the victim’s chest. Follow the instructions on the AED for the exact placement. 
  6. Once the pads are in place, the AED will automatically measure the person’s heart rhythm and determine whether a shock is needed. If shock is needed, the AED will instruct you to step back and push a button to deliver the shock.
  7. If the shock has not restored rhythm, continue CPR and follow further instructions from the AED.

Remember that an AED is programmed to only deliver a shock if completely necessary. These steps can be repeated as necessary until EMS arrives. 

Should You Have an AED in Your Workplace?

For many businesses, the easy answer is yes. Federal and state laws require many businesses to have an AED in an easily accessible location.

Federal law, the federal cardiac arrest survival act, recommends placement of AED’s in all federal buildings and introduced federal good Samaritan protection for any person who uses an AED in a life-saving situation.

The act was signed in the year 2000 and was intended to further education on the benefits and uses of portable AED’s.

As far as the good Samaritan protection act, this means that whoever uses the life-saving AED on the victim is not liable for any other injuries that may occur. In other words, you can’t be sued for using an AED on a victim. Many state laws require employee AED training and/or an immediate 911 call to be protected under the good Samaritan act.

See here for more in-depth information on federal and state regulations for having an AED in the workplace.

Registration Requirements

Most states require AED’s to be registered with local EMS (emergency medical services) teams. There are multiple reasons why registration of the AED is required.

First, registering your AED ensures that your business is following state and federal laws. Second, if local EMS teams are aware of exactly where an AED is located in the business, they will be able to instruct a person who has called 911 where to find the AED machine.

Three states require businesses to formally notify EMS if the AED is ever relocated or removed from the property. Even if your state does not legally require you to contact EMS, it is always recommended.

AEDs Save Lives

While we hope the day never comes, you just might find yourself in an emergency situation where you’ll need to use an AED. It’s important to always know where the AED is located in any of the major businesses where you spend time (i.e. workplace, recreational activities, school).

Feeling more confident? Next time someone asks, “what is an AED?” you’ll be able to step up and educate (just like McDreamy always did).

Keep checking back for more health care education and news. 

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