What is the issue?
Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs) are medical devices used to deliver an electric shock and restore a person’s normal heart rhythm in the event of a cardiac arrest. According to the Resuscitation Council (UK), using an AED in the first three to five minutes after cardiac arrest increases the individual’s chances of survival from 6% to 74%. Given that around 270 children die of a sudden cardiac arrest at school each year, this is hugely significant.
Do we have to have an AED?
As the law currently stands, schools are under no statutory duty or other general legal duty to have an AED on site. Instead, individual settings are left to make a decision based on their own circumstances and resources. As an independent school, it is unlikely that you would be successfully sued for not having an AED. However, the position may differ if you have pupils – or indeed staff – who you know to be particularly susceptible to a cardiac arrest, or if you have previously undertaken to keep an AED.
What are our obligations if we do have an AED?
Having decided to keep an AED, it is very important that you place and care for it appropriately.
You should ensure that the AED is:
● Kept in good working order and that it is inspected routinely
● Located strategically to ensure that it can be accessed quickly in an emergency
● No more than two minutes’ brisk walk from the areas where it is most likely to be needed such as sports facilities, play areas and the routine locations of those with known heart conditions
● Visible and accessible yet out of traffic routes and not susceptible to tampering or vandalism
● For the sake of convenience and visibility, kept in a specially designed wall mount or cabinet
The Department for Education advises that all proposed AED locations be subject to a risk assessment.
Do staff need training?
AEDs are ‘work equipment’ within the meaning of the term covered by the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. This means you have a legal duty, as an employer, to provide training information and instructions on their use. Having said that, little training is generally required in the case of modern AEDs. They are safe, easy to use and highly unlikely to cause harm. It should usually be sufficient for an independent school to circulate the manufacturer’s instructions to all staff and to provide a short general awareness briefing session in order to meet your statutory obligations.
In the event of an emergency, staff should not refrain from using an AED just because they have not received training. More often than not, 999 operators are able to direct untrained people to successfully employ an AED. A number of AEDs also provide verbal instructions once they’re activated.
What are the risks of using an AED?
In principle, it is possible that you could be sued – either by the child’s parents or by a staff member – in the event of someone being harmed as a result of an AED being used incorrectly. Having said this, modern AEDs are simple to operate and generally very safe for users. They will give a verbal warning instructing the rescuer to stand back when analysing heart rhythm and prior to delivering a controlled electric shock. A staff member may accidentally be subjected to a defibrillation shock if he or she does not heed this warning, but this is unlikely to cause significant harm. There are relatively few reported instances of non-medical professionals being sued after trying to help someone in an emergency.
What to do after an incident?
Where a cardiac arrest occurs, this may constitute a reportable incident under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR). Reporting requirements will differ according to whether the individual suffering the cardiac arrest is an employee (eg a teacher or member of support staff) or a non-employee (eg a pupil, parent or visitor). Further information can be found in the Health and Safety Executive guidance on incident reporting in schools.
How to get an AED?
If you are interested in acquiring an AED and would like assistance with purchasing one, the Department for Education has negotiated an arrangement with NHS Supply Chain to enable the purchase of AEDs which meet a certain minimum specification at a discount.