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Work safety gets 'current' technology

Amanda Vaughan
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 01/06) - A very plain-looking yellow plastic unit, about the size of an average camera bag, may save lives at NorthwesTel's Yellowknife offices.

NorthwesTel has installed automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in its offices as part of a new NWT workplace safety program that includes medical direction from St. John Ambulance.

A defibrillator is a device used to send an electric pulse into the chest of a person whose heart has stopped beating, in order to shock the heart into resuming its normal rhythm.

The defibrillator was demonstrated for the media last Thursday by Paul Stroeder, associate director of safety and security for NorthwesTel, under the supervision of Ruth Rolfe, St. John Ambulance council's CEO for the NWT and Nunavut.

Stroeder affixed the soft, adhesive-patch electrodes (as opposed to big metal paddles), to a foam dummy, and an automated voice directed him through each step of the process. Still, the equipment requires a safety training course for workers to be able to use in an emergency situation.

NorthwesTel had 36 employees participating in the training course, which Rolfe said could take about six hours, depending on the employees' level of previous first aid training.

The course covers the use of the defibrillator plus basic CPR and first aid. Stroeder said the employees' response to seeing the actual AEDs was positive.

"We had people that were scared, thinking it was going to be this huge, dangerous thing," said Stroeder, referring to the difference between the AED and defibrillators seen in movies and on TV.

Rolfe said that in many cases of cardiac arrest, the chances of survival are increased by 74 per cent when defibrillation is used within three minutes. She said the AED provides a way for on-site first aid attendants to make valuable use of the minutes before emergency responders arrive.

St. John Ambulance assessed NorthwesTel's offices to determine the number of devices needed, the best place to install them, and the percentage of the 125 employees in that building that would require the training. Rolfe said her organization would also be able to provide a debriefing for staff, in the event that the AED was used in an emergency situation.

"If you have to use this device, and it's on the person who you sit beside every day, then that can definitely have an effect on a person," said Rolfe.

The AEDs range in price from $2,000 to $4,000, depending on the complexity of the model and the optional components chosen such as alarmed wall cabinets or carrying cases.

NorthwesTel will evaluate the program after six months. .to decide whether it wants to purchase units for its other locations.