It was 7 PM in the evening in our Mumbai office. The day was winding down and it had been a hectic day for the sales people. The CEO wanted to review the sales plans and he had asked each sales person to present their targets and plans. We have a reconstituted Mumbai sales team and the CEO wanted to use the opportunity to interact with each sales person and also do a first hand assessment of the talent we had on b0ard. He was done with the junior most team members and now he was planning to have one final round of meetings with the supervisors to share his views and provide feedback.
As the meeting with the Managers got underway, one of our most experienced sales person, Alvin started feeling a little uncomfortable. Alvin is 36 years old and is a veteran in the industry. He has been working for us for close to 3 years now. Alvin started sweating profusely, was breathing in great gulps and was clearly distressed. He complained of tightness in the chest, heaviness all over and seemed to be unable to keep his eyes open.
As Alvin collapsed no one seems to know what to do. Someone got him down to a car and they rushed him to the nearest hospital. The Mumbai roads were as usual clogged and it took them at least 45 mins to reach the hospital. During this time, there was no one who could provide first aid and everyone prayed that nothing should happen to Alvin before they reach the hospital.
Scary isn’t it? But this is how most offices in India are. There are hardly any provisions for managing an untoward incident in the office. There are no trained personnel, who can provide basic life support till help arrives and there are no emergency protocols defined or practiced, which may help in managing a medical emergency at the work place.
There is no denying the fact that work place health is amongst the most neglected in most corporates in India. With increasing levels of work stress, sedentary lifestyles late nights and weekend business parties, corporate India today offers a lifestyle, which is fast paced and quite deadly. Coupled with pressures at home with nuclear families and live in helps being the norm, life for most people in big cities is a roller coaster and this is taking a gradual toll on everyone’s health.
Lifestyle diseases including cardiac diseases, diabetes and hypertension are catching their victims young and often by surprise and corporate India is just not equipped to handle this.
It is imperative that corporates start paying serious attention to the health of their employees. Annual health checks must be mandatory and should be taken a lot more seriously than now. It would also help if the companies could hire the services of professional counselors, who can interact with the employees regularly and shepherd them through periods of heightened stress either at work or home. There is no harm or shame in having shrinks at the workplace to help employees cope with a crisis that may be lurking round the corner. An organisation must maintain a health register of all its employees detailing their existing conditions, their risk factors, lifestyle choices, allergies, emergency contacts, family physicians et al. This information should be maintained and updated on an annual basis and should be immediately available if required.
It would also be a good idea to train a few employees in Basic Life Support techniques. I would recommend at least 1 trained person per 50 employees would be a good ratio. Everyone should know that they need to call in case of a medical emergency at the work place. Hospitals in Delhi usually help train employees and they rarely charge a fee. While, I worked in the hospitals, we made a special effort to organise these trainings. Yet, I recall, we struggled to get corporates to allow to conduct these. Most corporates looked upon these as a waste of time and a kind of marketing activity for the hospital happening on their premises.
It would also help if the corporates had a clearly defined emergency protocol and people identified who would coordinate the medical evacuation. In Alvin’s case, we rushed him to the nearest hospital. As luck would have it, this hospital did not have a cardiologist in the emergency, it did not have a cath lab, a 3 D echo any other kind of emergency cardiac support. While, they managed Alvin as best as they could and stabilised him, we were plain lucky that Alvin was not having a heart attack. Investigations later revealed that Alvin suffered from hypertension and had a deranged lipid profile. We also knew he smoked like a chimney, loved alcohol and led a wholly sedentary life. He was under immense work pressure, spent more than 3 hours commuting from Thane everyday and was trying hard to juggle personal and professional life as best as he could.
For him this was a warning sign. His body is protesting against constant neglect and abuse. For the corporate too it is a big red light. We should have known about Alvin’s medical condition in advance. More importantly we should have been better equipped to handle the kind of medical emergency we faced all of a sudden.
This unfortunately is not just our story alone. It is happening all too often in many organisations. We need to sit up, take notice and try to create a healthier and medically better prepared workplaces.
To protect the privacy of the employee, I have changed his name.