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What do to if an employee has a heart attack

Fergal Bell
August23/ 2014

Around 2.7 million people in the UK suffer from coronary heart disease and one in four die from cardio-vascular disease. That makes sobering reading but from these figures we can see that it is a condition that will affect almost every workplace in the country. Furthermore, with employees spending around a quarter of their whole week at work it is an issue that employers may be forced to deal with first hand.

Signs to watch out for

  • Chest pains – these are not always severe; they can be mild (particularly in the case of diabetics) and last for a number of hours
  • Upper body pain or discomfort including: in either or both arms, the back, shoulders, neck, jaw or upper part of the stomach
  • Light-headedness or dizziness
  • Cold sweats
  • Shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and tiredness; the latter often over several days

What to do

The most sensible course of action if you suspect an employee is having a heart attack is to call 999 and ask for emergency medical assistance. While this is happening the person affected should rest completely and avoid any physical activity, including walking around or carrying anything. The operator will organise for an ambulance and can provide advice on what to do in the meantime e.g. to take some aspirin. This can help the person hugely both in terms of the immediate threat to their life and for the recovery afterwards.

Returning to work

How quickly someone comes back to work depends on the job they do, how bad the heart attack was and how well their recovery has gone. Many people can return to work after a few months but those in more physically taxing jobs may take longer, certainly to work at the same level as before. In these cases employers may need to consider moving duties around to make the situation work. It can also be a good idea for any employee who has had a heart attack to ease back into their roles. This can mean working part-time initially or taking on reduced duties.

Training staff

It is recommended that employers have a plan in place about what to do if an employee is suspected of having a heart attack. This can include training several staff members on taking the lead when dealing with an event. A trained person can call the emergency services, greet them when they arrive and explain what has happened both before and after the incident. The staff member would also contact the employee’s emergency contact and can comfort the other people who were present at the time. Increasingly businesses are also investing in automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) and training staff in their use. This may be worth considering.

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Fergal Bell