How do you mend a broken heart? £1,600 helps

St John Ambulance says that 100 people die at work every week - so it's time companies got their own defibrillator. Shocking.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 18 Nov 2010
You may remember the extraordinary case of the Finnish tax official who, in 2004, died at his desk - and nobody noticed for two whole days.  Apparently a ‘series of coincidences’ accounted for the fact that the 100 staff working on his floor didn’t spot that the 60 year-old had shuffled off this mortal coil while poring over a tax return (a fate not worse than death, as it turns out).

It may sound a ridiculous scenario (surely such a thing wouldn’t happen in friendly, caring Britain?). But this sort of thing may be more common than you think. According to St John Ambulance, around 30,000 people have a cardiac arrest outside the hospital, with 5% of these occurring in the workplace. That's 100 people in the UK each week. Which is why, it says, it's time for your business to invest in a defibrillator. Without one, survival chances drop by up to 10% every minute after a heart attack - but if the shock is applied promptly, they could be as high as 75%.

Now those of you partial to a bit of ER (or Holby City, for that matter) might think that this sort of intervention should really be left to professionals (ideally extremely good-looking ones with a talent for furrowing their brows). But according to SJA, thanks to aids like voiced instructions, the latest defibrillators can actually be operated by any old punter. And as an extra incentive, SJA is offering on-site training every time a company buys one.

But how many firms will take up this offer? At around £1,600, the equipment doesn't come cheap, especially at a time when cash is tight. Yet in the grand scheme of things, this might be a small price to pay. Number-crunchers might argue that if the average cost of replacing a member of staff is about £20,000 (more, probably, if you have to fork out to exorcise their desk), then the defibrillator suddenly doesn't look quite so pricey. And then there's the whole 'saving someone's life' thing, of course...

That said, there are some indirect measures a company can take to prevent workers suffering from cardiac arrests.  One piece of research by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health suggests that failure to complain about unfair treatment at work doubles the risk of a heart attack. So by encouraging your workforce to complain more often, you might have less need for a defibrillator in the first place.  

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