Do I Need a Defibrillator in my Workplace?

Let's be clear right up front, in the vast majority of workplaces there is no legal requirement for an employer to have defibrillator. Having said that it's getting much more common for employers and many other organisations such as sports clubs etc. to have a defibrillator on their premises.

So what is a defibrillator? A defibrillator is an electrical device that can restart the heart when it goes into a particular rhythm. This rhythm stops the blood being pumped around the body (sometimes known as fibrillation). There is no doubt it can be a lifesaver, as demonstrated by the very public events of the footballer Fabrice Muamba by being resuscitated on the pitch at Tottenham football ground in 2012. Using a defibrillator can turn what would be a disastrous outcome, with the death of an employee, into success story where the employee recovers and returns to work.

Modern defibrillators are very easy to use. The UK Resuscitation Council that provides guidance on the use of defibrillators states that individuals should be able to use them without any training whatsoever. This may well be so but the Resuscitation Council encourages training as it helps to save time in a life or death situation. It is our experience that employees do not like to use the defibrillators without training.

They usually give two reasons for this. Firstly, they don't want to use what they perceive as a piece of medical machinery without having used it before and not understanding what they have to do. This probably makes sense and, if you think about it, first aiders will almost certainly have more self confidence in using a defibrillator if they have actually had a go in training before they have to use one for real. In fact, it is our experience that most first aiders will not use a defibrillator at work until they have been trained. Secondly, they are worried that if they make a mistake in the use of the defibrillator this could lead to them being sued a later date. We always reassure them that it is highly unlikely that any civil litigation would be successful. However the best way to ensure the risk of being sued remains low is to be trained in the use of the defibrillator on an annual basis.


Currently the use of a defibrillator is not included in the First Aid at Work courses that are legally required by the Health and Safety Executive. You would therefore need, for the reason outlined above, to get a separate defibrillator training course for your employees if you have one. This can usually be done in a half day course and, depending on time constraints, can often be added at to a First Aid at Work course, provided the right amount of hours of training are provided on each part of the course.

The main question is “do you really need one?” Well, as already stated, they are becoming much more common and many individuals think that is a good idea for employers to have defibrillators available should an employee collapse and require it. This is based on the fact that if someone collapses at work, say with a heart attack, and their heart goes into a dangerous rhythm then for every minute it takes for a defibrillator to be used their chance of survival decreases by 10%. The Government target for an ambulance to attend a life threatening casualty is that it should take no more than 8 minutes in 75% of the time but, depending on where you live in the UK, this target may not be achieved. Even if this target is met, a significant proportion of those people in the dangerous rhythm will already be dead or at least seriously brain damaged before the paramedics arrive.

These facts have prompted some communities, particularly in the USA, to put in place large number of defibrillators and to train many of the people in the community. When anyone collapses with a dangerous heart rhythm in these communities they will very rapidly, within 2 to 3 minutes, have access to a defibrillator and someone trained in its use. This has led to a dramatic increase in the survival rate of casualties in these communities, shown in Seattle, Washington State. If you have your heart attack, in Seattle today then your chance of survival is probably around 62%, whereas in UK the average survival rate in the community is less than 10%. So not only is there pressure from employees, their representatives and others in society to put defibrillators into workplaces and community settings but there is also now a developing feeling among many that it is a moral duty for employees to do this. Asda, as an example, has been rolling out defibrillators in all of their 609 UK stores and training their first aiders in their use during 2014.

Employers are sometimes put off by the perceived high cost of a defibrillator and the need for annual refresher training for their first aiders. However, a defibrillator costs no more than a medium sized photocopier. If an employee does collapse at work with a dangerous heart rhythm and the defibrillator saves their life, then that cost seems very little indeed.

So if you're thinking of having a defibrillator in your workplace and need some advice on what to choose or any other issues then please give us a call and have a chat with one of our doctors who will be happy to advise. Perhaps there is no better present for your employees this Christmas than for you to get a defibrillator for your workplace.