A Guide to Using Automated External Defibrillators

An automated external defibrillator (AED) is a fully portable electronic device that’s capable of diagnosing problematic heart behaviour. Alongside its diagnostic functions, it is also able of delivering a shock to correct the rhythmic behaviour of a heart. These devices have been specially designed for use by anyone, even those who haven’t had proper training, and their use is often taught on first aid courses. They usually require the operator to attach two electrode pads across the chest of a patient which both monitor the rhythm of the heart and supply the electric shock necessary for defibrillation.

Defibrillators in the Workplace

AEDs are becoming more common in the workplace, particularly industrial units where the utmost precautions are taken to protect employees from dangers such as electrical shocks or inhalation of fumes, which could cause collapse and dangerous heart rhythms. In recent years the cost of these devices has dropped drastically thanks to advances in computer technology, and many AEDs now feature modules that actually talk the user through the process of attaching the pads to the victim’s chest and provide advice on the correct steps to take following a diagnosis.

Benefits of Using AEDs

Even though the HSE recommends that AEDs are only used by people with the relevant training, tests in America have shown that even 13 year old children could use these devices in almost the same timeframe as a well trained operator – they can literally be used by anyone with a little common sense. The main benefit of these devices is that they save lives. In instances where a person collapses and goes into a state where their heart deteriorates into a lethal rhythm CPR alone will save them less than 10% of the time – AEDs significantly increase a person’s chances of survival. Also AEDs are able to make a diagnosis with a better degree of accuracy in many cases than a person with basic first aid training.

Basic Instructions for using AEDs

There is a basic procedure for using AEDs. This is very simple to follow, comprising both traditional CPR techniques and the use of the AED to correct an arrhythmic beat within someone’s heart.


If a victim is unconscious the first thing to do is assess their condition. Are they breathing normally? Can you find a heartbeat by checking their pulse across the wrist? If a victim is unresponsive then the first thing you should check is that they don’t have a blocked airway – if they do have a blocked airway then you should attempt to clear it. At this stage you should always request that the AED device is bought to the incident and the relevant emergency services should be informed.

Initial CPR

The first step is always CPR. Even if an AED is present it is recommended that basic CPR is performed. The suggested pattern for this is 30:2, which means 30 compressions for every 2 breaths. There is a chance that this procedure can start the victim’s breathing again. You should check to see if a victim’s chest raises and falls during this process. If CPR fails then you will have to use the AED.

Use the AED

There are a number of steps involved in using the AED. Fortunately many of the newer AEDs have special software that will talk you through the use of the device in calming tones. This can be especially useful in reminding even for those well trained in the proper steps to use an AED. These are as follows:

  • If there is only one person present with the victim then they should cease CPR and switch on the AED, otherwise CPR should continue whilst the AED powers up. The device will then present a number of voice or visual prompts that should be followed by the users. This will usually need them to attach the electrode pads to the victim’s chest and then stand well back whilst the device assess their heart rhythm. This will then indicate whether or not a shock is needed.
  • When a shock is indicated the first thing to do is ensure that nobody is touching the victim. The AED may be a fully automatic device in which case it will deliver the shock without the need for input – otherwise you should operate the device as directed. Following the shock continue with CPR and follow further instructions from the AED.
  • If no shock is indicated by the AED continue CPR at 30:2 and follow any further prompts from the device. Regardless of whether or not the AED has delivered a shock you should continue to follow the prompt until the emergency services arrive or the victim recovers.

Other Factors

There may be other factors involved in the scenario that could affect the way you need to use the AED device. The most common of these include:

  • Water – If the victim is wet then this should cause no problems with the defibrillation. It’s important to make sure that no one is touching the victim when the shock is delivered and that the victim’s chest is completely dry as this may compromise the effectiveness of the pads.
  • Oxygen Mask – If oxygen is being delivered to a victim via a face mask then this should be removed and placed a metre away from them before a shock is delivered.

A Final Note

As a disclaimer we would like to state that this article is not intended to be used as a definitive guide to using Automated External Defibrillators in the workplace or elsewhere. We hope that in a worst case scenario that this guide may however give someone enough information so that they might save someone’s life if no one trained in the use of AEDs is available. Need training? We (Tiks Consult) offer free AED training on our 3-day First Aid at Work course and also offer a half day AED session. Contact us for more information or to book a course.

This post was written by Lee Newell, the marketing manager at ESE Direct (www.esedirect.co.uk) the UK suppliers of products for business.


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