A little ways back Discover Magazine featured an interesting article (“What You Don’t Know Can Kill You”) that discussed how people (often inaccurately) perceive and assess risk. The piece covered new findings demonstrating that despite the “facts”, our own biases come into play when assessing risks and considering what we should truly fear. Essentially, there is a tug of war between the logical and instinctual parts of our brains.
Summarizing a few of the points made in the article, these biases are often heavily influenced by what and how often we hear and see certain things. For example, if the news covers drownings several days in a row, we are more likely to fear the water. We also fear and worry more about “man-made” risks and events that might cause a very painful or gory demise than we do “natural” circumstances that are in fact much more likely.
As a result, we tend to give greater weight to the one-in–a-million scenario than more proximate and likely hazards. Many people fear sharks yet do not think twice about getting into their car to go to work each day. However, the reality is that roughly 1 American perishes from a shark attack each year while more than 30,000 die in motor vehicle accidents.
So what does all of this have to do with your business, much less AEDs? A LOT.
A recent Institute of Medicine report cites 600,000 annual incidents of Cardiac Arrest in the U.S., making it the leading single cause of death. In the abstract, this statistic may not be surprising to you, but at the same time, I bet you fear dying in an airplane crash (odds of doing so = 1 in 7,032) more than you fear experiencing cardiac arrest (1 in 5 using conservative math). Again, our biases come into play – while deaths from cardiac arrest are equivalent to ten 737s crashing to earth each day, we do not treat this risk with the level of concern commensurate with its likelihood of occurrence. Part of this stems from the fact that cardiac arrest is a “natural” risk. Another part of the answer lies in the bizarre paradox that due to the high frequency of cardiac arrest, it is rarely newsworthy – limiting the external prompts that would otherwise heighten our self-preservation instincts. Last, we tend to stereotype cardiac issues as confined to the elderly.
Unfortunately, the reality is far from this. Various studies show the average age of cardiac arrest victims to be in th
e low 60s with merely one standard deviation extending to people in their 40s – right in line with the average age of a company’s executive team. There are also thousands of children who die from cardiac arrest each year – for example 1 out of every 73 high schools has an incident each year.
So, who are these people? Some are people you will never meet. However, others are your friends, family, and neighbors – and your employees, customers, and vendors.
Cardiac arrest can strike anywhere at any time, but as we tend to associate it more with certain locations than others, our biases again induce us to underestimate the true risk. If I told you that someone had a cardiac arrest at the gym, you likely would not be surprised. What about the corner deli? Looking at National EMS Information System data from 2012 – 2013 reveals that locations of commerce are THREE TIMES more likely to experience a cardiac arrest event than recreational and sports venues.
Appreciating this tension between fact and perception, you may question why you have to address cardiac incidents at your sites. The short answer is maybe you don’t (at least from a legal perspective – depending on the type and location of your business), and the point of this piece is not to tell you that you do.
Instead, I am simply trying to offer some perspective. In this spirit, it may be useful to consider why other businesses choose to adopt AEDs.
There is a final reason that ties all of the above together – brand. As AEDs are now expected in a sweeping array of business types, there is an explicit impact on a company’s brand. This impact is bi-directional. An AED program can have a wonderfully positive impact with positive public recognition accompanying the incalculably beneficial human impact.
Appreciating this, the converse is also true – witness the following which appeared shortly after a major retailer won a lawsuit for not having an AED:
Fundamental to any successful business is its ability to recognize the true nature of the environment in which it operates. Better companies feature a superior ability to distinguish between the real and phantom risks to their businesses – they understand that the automobile accident is of greater concern than the shark attack. The best companies take this a step further and proactively act to reduce these risks, enabling them to determine their own future while their competitors can only chase them.