The Power of Two: 10 ways to protect the heartbeat of your business

It’s February — the month of love. Even more importantly it’s American Heart Month — a time to focus on our cardiovascular health.

We want to take this opportunity to spread awareness about heart health and offer tips on what an employer can do to prepare for the potential of having an employee suffer heart events and a sudden cardiac arrest — the No. 1 cause of death in the workplace. As an employer we know the health and safety of your employees is a top priority.

First, what is sudden cardiac arrest?

Something overlooked in the workplace, sudden cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating, cutting off blood flow to the brain and other vital organs. It claims over 350,000 lives in the U.S. each year, and unfortunately, it can happen anywhere, including at work. It is worth stating again — it is the #1 cause of death in the workplace today.

The good news is that sudden cardiac arrest is largely treatable if acted upon quickly. With training and preparation, employers can save lives and make a difference for employees and clients alike.

Here are best practices to implement in your business:

Provide CPR and AED training. Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillator (AED) training teaches employees how to perform CPR and use AEDs in multiple related emergencies. When initiated within three to five minutes of collapse, CPR and early defibrillation with an AED machine can produce survival rates as high as 50%‒70%.

Aim to get as many of your employees certified in CPR/AED skills as possible. Provide training on a regular basis — skills start to decline within a few months. Share the statistics on the impact of this knowledge and encourage team participation. Place AEDs in easily accessible locations and ensure they are properly maintained. Post signage promoting their locations. AED’s can be purchased from local or online organizations. Applying for grants can reduce or eliminate the expense.

Recognize early warning signs. Often, there are early signs that someone is at risk of heart related illness, such as lightheadedness, heart palpitations, fatigue, chest pain, discomfort, and dizziness. Make sure employees are aware of and know how to recognize concerning symptoms in themselves and others. Encourage them to speak up and notify a supervisor if they ever feel unwell or see others struggling.

Be prepared to act fast. Every second counts when someone has a cardiac incident. Make sure you have an emergency response plan and that it enables fast action. Clearly communicate protocols, keep emergency equipment accessible, and designate employees who will take charge, perform CPR/AED, call 911 etc. Practice your response drills.

Know the warning signs of heart attack and stroke. Heart attacks and strokes often have early warning signs. For heart attacks, warning signs can include chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, and pain in the jaw or arm. For strokes, watch for face drooping, arm weakness, and speech difficulty.

Offer heart wellness checks. These include providing blood pressure checks, cholesterol/glucose screenings, stress management initiatives, and other offerings that help employees be proactive about heart health.

Support overall employee wellness. Put policies and programs in place around areas like CPR/AED access, flexible work options, mental health services, and nutrition standards. This demonstrates that employee health is a top priority, and it encourages the team to pay attention to these things.

Bring in local experts. Partner with heart-focused groups such as the American Heart Association, or the Healthy Petaluma District and Foundation’s HeartSafe Community Program, a great local organization focused on heart prevention and learning — to tap into more resources and spread awareness. This will expand your educational materials and training.

Leverage available technology. Take advantage of mobile apps, wearable devices, and online tools that can help educate on heart health, track biometric data, encourage healthy behaviors, and alert emergency contacts if danger is detected. Promote the use of these tools.

Evaluate and improve efforts. Survey employees to find out what wellness initiatives they find most helpful and where there are gaps. Use this information to expand your offerings and better support heart health over time. Employee feedback is key.

Let’s make heart awareness month last all year long, incorporating heart-healthy programs, encouragement, and education year-round, consistency is key to driving lasting change. Sudden cardiac arrest and heart related events are a threat, but also a tragedy that can be stopped. You have the power to prevent needless deaths and create a culture of well-being that benefits all.

The Power of Two

Andrew McNeil and Rosario Avila are award-winning senior benefits advisers collaborating to use their different perspectives to bring better solutions to employers. Reach out: or 707-992-3789.

Read their past columns.

A reference to Petaluma Health Care District has been corrected to reflect the organization’s name change to Healthy Petaluma District and Foundation.

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