Restaurant owners should be prepared in the event of a health emergency

Across the country, laws that mandate life-saving devices in public places such as health clubs or restaurants vary widely. Yet even in facilities that are required by state law to have an automatic external defibrillator, for instance, business owners are not necessarily under any legal obligation to use it in an emergency.

New York state law requires taverns, restaurants, and other establishments to have CPR kits available so CPR can be performed safely by a trained person, but does not go as far as requiring owners or employees to perform this life-saving procedure, or be trained in CPR.

Restaurants are very safety-conscious businesses, with a myriad rules and procedures in place to ensure the health and safety of both patrons and employees. Many safety regulations fall under the auspices of OSHA, but restaurant owners know making safety a priority is just good business practice.

Being prepared to act in an emergency is just as important as proper food preparation. That might mean having life-saving devices in your facility and training your staff how to use them. Some devices, such as a fire extinguisher or carbon-monoxide detector, fall into one category of life-saving equipment. Other devices, such as an AED—a device that shocks the heart during a sudden cardiac arrest—or an EpiPen, come into play when a person experiences a life-threatening emergency.

Some employers fear liability issues that could arise from assisting a person in need by administering CPR or another life-saving procedure. Good Samaritan laws generally grant a business and its employees immunity as long as they are acting in good faith. However, laws regarding AED use are not the same as those covering CPR, and they are different from state to state. Florida's Cardiac Arrest Survival Act, for example, gives legal immunity to those who try to reasonably help someone in an emergency. The law is designed to encourage people to try to save a life without fear of being sued if something goes wrong.

Schools lead the way

There is a nationwide push by the American Heart Association to make CPR training a high school graduation requirement; to date, 21 states have passed laws to that effect. That no doubt will benefit the restaurant industry in the near future as it traditionally employs large numbers of teens and young adults.

Schools are also responding to the growing health threat due to food allergy reactions, with some states, like Michigan and California, passing laws requiring that public schools stock epinephrine auto-injectors, commonly known as EpiPens, and have staff members trained on how to use them.

With a reported 15 million Americans suffering from food allergies, and the life-saving impact of promptly administered medication, more states will likely enact laws targeting schools and other facilities. A recent attempt by a Virginia lawmaker to require restaurants to keep epinephrine injectors on hand failed, but it’s an issue restaurant owners will want to monitor closely.

First responders

As in the case of an emergency food allergy reaction, time is of the essence in regard to sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). SCA is the leading cause of death in the U.S., with more than 380,000 cases reported each year. Sadly, nine out of 10 people suffering sudden cardiac arrest will die. But properly delivered CPR can double or even triple the rate of survival. Immediate action is crucial; after 10 minutes, a person’s chance of survival is zero.

Unfortunately, 70 percent of Americans may feel helpless to act during a cardiac emergency because they either do not know how to administer CPR or because their training has significantly lapsed. Studies show retention of knowledge about CPR techniques can significantly decrease as soon as six weeks post training, with an entire degradation of knowledge as early as six months after.

Properly administered CPR—quality chest compressions at the proper cadence and correct depth—keeps blood flowing to the brain, until an AED can be employed or emergency personnel arrive. Since 2010, the American Heart Association has been promoting hands-only CPR without mouth-to-mouth breaths as the preferred method of performing CPR. This new science has inspired new medical devices like CPR RsQ Assist that simplify the process of CPR for life-savers. Like most AEDs, a CPR device offers real-time training to users so even untrained individuals can save lives.

Since the federal government passed the Cardiac Arrest Survival Act in 2000 to bring greater awareness to sudden cardiac arrest, all federal building are required to have AEDs. It’s estimated there are 1.5 million to 2 million AEDs in public settings today.

Each state has its own rules as to where AEDs are mandated and the level of training required. Oregon has one of the most aggressive AED programs in the country, requiring them at all public and private schools, colleges and schools of higher education, health clubs, and businesses with 50,000 or more square feet and at least 25 people congregating per day. At least 19 states have no state requirements for AEDs; 19 others require them in at least some schools.

Whether or not your state has supported widespread installation of AEDs or other life-saving devices such as carbon monoxide detectors and EpiPens, legislative mandates shouldn’t be the only factor in determining what level of safety restaurant owners provide for their customers and employees.

Food allergy reactions, choking incidents, sudden cardiac arrest—all of these are serious threats facing restaurant owners. I’d like to believe if I were experiencing a sudden cardiac arrest or choking in a restaurant, someone would render aid in the form of CPR or the Heimlich maneuver—or both, if necessary. Being prepared to administer life-saving aid to a customer certainly goes beyond the expectations of good customer service, but it's a commitment that responsible restaurant owners must be willing to make.

The opinions of contributors are their own. Publication of their writing does not imply endorsement by FSR magazine or Journalistic Inc.

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