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Health & Hygiene Compulsory defibrillators in schools: issues to consider

Similar campaigns in the USA have, in some states, prompted laws to be passed that require schools to have defibrillators on site.

What is a defibrillator?

An automated external defibrillator (AED) is a portable device that analyses the heart’s electrical activity and senses whether an electrical shock is required, administering one when necessary.


atrina Boyd from the education team at business law firm DWF LLP, discusses the legalities surrounding defibrillators. “Every year, more than 600 young people die from Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) and although as many as 270 of these deaths occur in British schools, there is no legal requirement for them to possess a defibrillator.

The issue of defibrillators in schools has hit headlines recently and is the subject of a high profile campaign being led by the Oliver King Foundation. The foundation’s e-petition calls upon the Government to ‘introduce defibrillators to all public buildings by 2017’ and, so far, has been signed by 110,000 people.

Some medical experts believe that a life can be saved if an AED is used within the first three minutes of collapse. The chances of survival after this time decrease rapidly, dropping to less than five per cent after ten minutes in cardiac arrest.

Legal implications

The expectation on faculty members to administer this treatment will raise concerns. For example, whether the school could be subjected to a negligence claim if the equipment is not used, or is not used properly.

It is likely that once a defibrillator is in place, there will be a duty to use it, and schools will need to ensure that dedicated staff members are adequately trained and available before, during and after school hours. However, in terms of negligent use of the device, a claimant would have to prove that the casualty was left

in a worse state by the use of the defibrillator than if no intervention had been made, which is highly unlikely, given the way in which the device functions.

There is a potential for claims stemming from a duty to ensure that the AED is properly maintained through regular inspection and, where necessary, repair. A staff member would have to be responsible for checking the equipment.

Schools would also need to have a documented emergency response plan in place, incorporating use of the AED, and all staff would be required to know where it was stored and who was trained to use it. It is clear that if this equipment is made compulsory in schools there will be an additional training need placed on school management teams.

An ongoing issue

The Oliver King Foundation’s campaign has been backed by 65 MPs and was the subject of a Parliamentary debate in March this year. This is clearly a matter that requires attention. The foundation has already joined forces with Liverpool City Council to place defibrillators in all primary schools within the city, and it may not be long before schools across the country must follow suit.“

HSE throws a lifeline to play specialists

In a recent statement, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) clarified its stance on risk management in regard to children’s play and removed some of the misconceptions

surrounding children’s leisure.

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The organisation confirmed that it “fully recognises that play brings the world to life for children...exposes them to the realities of

the world in which they live, which is a world not free from risk, but rather one where risk is ever present.”

The HSE states that play providers should deal with risk responsibly, sensibly and proportionately to safeguard play, removing the miscomprehension that all risks must be eliminated. Darran Hine of playground specialist, Sovereign Play Equipment, is delighted by the statement: “For those of us operating within the play and leisure industry… the threat of litigation or criminal prosecution has led to a culture of fear and confusion regarding risk.

“This uncertainty has led to leisure activities being almost discouraged. The result is that more and more bland and sterile play environments have been created, that lack challenge and prevent children from learning through testing their capabilities.

“As the HSE stated: No child will learn about risk if they are wrapped in cotton wool.” 21

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