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Should Your Organization Buy Defibrillators?

Krugliak, Wilkins, Griffiths & Dougherty Co., L.P.A.

It’s just another day at the office when your fellow co-worker comes out of his office complaining of chest pain.  Shortly thereafter, the co-worker collapses and you immediately attempt to resuscitate him through the use of CPR.  Unfortunately, the co-worker dies of a massive heart attack.  Is there anything else you or your employer could have done?  Tragically, nearly a quarter of a million people in the United States die each year outside hospitals due to cardiac arrest.  Studies show that many of those who are unable to be resuscitated would have had a better chance of survival if their hearts would have been shocked.  This calls for a defibrillator. 

A defibrillator works by sending a series of jolts through the chest vault to the heart.  Electrode pads are attached to a patient’s chest and the device is activated.  The shocks are supposed to restore normal heart rhythm. 

Market changes to consider:
Until relatively recently, defibrillators were large, cost as much at $18,000.00, and needed specially trained technicians to operate. 

  • A new generation of devices are available costing from between $1,500.00 to $4,000.00. Some weigh less than three pounds and are only slightly larger than a personal desk assistant (PDA). 
  • Manufacturers claim that new devices are designed so that 6th graders can learn to use them. 

Operation is nearly automatic.  Once the pads are attached to the chest, the defibrillator monitors the patient’s heart rhythms.  If the rhythms are normal, nothing happens.  If rhythms are abnormal, the device sends the jolts. 

Because of the drops in price, portability and ease of use, many organizations have begun installing defibrillators on premises or in company vehicles.  Often they are hung on the wall, like fire extinguishers.  Proponents of their distribution include many heart attack survivors whose lives have been saved by the devices or their predecessors. 

Plan Your Company’s Position
Should your organization buy and position defibrillators?  While the benefits seem to be undeniable, there are some potential risks involved.  What would happen, for example, if an employee applied the defibrillator pads improperly and a victim died who might have been saved by simple CPR? 

  • To minimize this risk, many jurisdictions have passed Good Samaritan laws and specifically applying to defibrillators.  For instance, in Ohio, House Bill 717, enacted for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health and safety, provides both civil and criminal immunity under Ohio’s Good Samaritan act for any properly trained person or authorized physician using a defibrillator. 
  • The best technique to minimize the risk is to have plenty of trained users on hand.  In Ohio, a licensed physician is required to oversee training, device maintenance and post use date review. 

Owners of the defibrillator are responsible for insuring proper training, notification to EMS of type, number and location of defibrillators, notification to EMS of device use, consulting with a physician for medical direction and ensuring proper maintenance and testing of the defibrillator.  If your organization is willing to commit to employee training, defibrillators could be as important as fire extinguishers and first aid kits at your business. 

NOTE: This general summary of the law should not be used to solve individual problems since slight changes in the fact situation may require a material variance in the applicable legal advice.

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