Damar Hamlin and Responding to Medical Emergencies at Work

Author: Taylor Lewellyn, Brightmine Legal Editor

February 15, 2023

As the confetti continues to settle from Super Bowl LVII, the biggest story of the 2022 football season remains Damar Hamlin's medical emergency that occurred during the game between the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals last month. Following a routine tackle, Hamlin stood up, swayed and collapsed due to cardiac arrest. As medical personnel surrounded him on the field, performing CPR and using a defibrillator to restart his heart, players, coaches and millions of fans looked on with shock and concern.

Fortunately, Hamlin has made a significant recovery, in large part due to the immediate and rehearsed actions of the first responders and the teams' medical personnel. The incident serves as a poignant reminder that all workplaces, not just professional sports facilities, need to be prepared to respond to employees' medical emergencies quickly and capably to ensure the best possible outcomes.


In anticipation of sudden emergencies, including employee medical events, every workplace should develop and implement an emergency action plan, or EAP. A comprehensive EAP sets forth procedures for various potential disasters and emergencies, assigns authority for emergency duties and directs the entire workplace in ways to prevent loss of life, injuries and property damage. Regarding medical emergencies specifically, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires an EAP to include:

  • Methods for reporting the emergency;
  • Dedicated assignment of authority and responsible parties, including the names, departments, titles and the telephone numbers of individuals under the plan;
  • Rescue and medical duties for workers responsible for performing these services; and
  • Training for employees with duties under the plan.

Additionally, each workplace should be equipped with high quality first aid and bloodborne pathogen kits to respond to medical emergencies. An employer also may wish to have an automatic external defibrillator (AED) on hand. Good Samaritan clauses may reduce liability for an employer that has an AED.


Another critical component of medical emergency preparedness involves employee training. Under OSHA's EAP rules, employers must review an EAP with each employee covered by the plan during the following times:

  • When the plan is developed or the employee is assigned initially to a job;
  • When the employee's responsibilities under the plan change; and
  • When the plan is changed.

Your organization should conduct regular drills to ensure employees are aware of the EAP and how to implement it.

Employees with specific responsibilities under the EAP must also be trained in how to carry out those responsibilities. At a minimum, all employees should know to call 911 in a medical emergency. Designated workers should be trained to greet the emergency workers, to show them where the patient is and to explain what happened.

Any employees charged with providing medical care to workers must have first aid training, as well as bloodborne pathogen training. To adequately respond to workplace medical emergencies, CPR training for roughly 10-to-15% of the workforce is recommended. If AEDs are present in the workplace, an employer may also require training on how to use these devices for designated employees.

Additionally, if employees will be wearing any PPE, such as gloves or eye protection, to perform emergency duties, they must have appropriate training for these items. If respirators must be worn for an emergency response, employers must provide training and comply with all relevant sections of the respiratory protection standard.

Responding to a Medical Emergency

If a medical emergency occurs, appropriate designated personnel should immediately respond to the scene. They should perform any necessary first aid if trained to do so and call professional emergency responders. Designated individuals should also contact the injured employee's emergency contact and comfort employees who are witnesses to the incident.

The Role of Leadership

Once these essential elements of medical emergency preparedness and response are addressed, how can HR leadership further enhance their organization's response plan to ensure that they achieve the best results for their employees? Four key strategies come to mind:

  • Foster a "people first" corporate culture that properly supports grieving coworkers during and post-emergency and that mitigates the potential impact of witnessing traumatic events.
  • Protect business continuity by skill- and talent-planning well before a time of need. Have staffing contingency plans in place with skilled and capable talent ready to step in when necessary.
  • Leverage new technology to enable HR leaders to keep people safe and informed when it matters most. For example, equip HR Teams with emergency communication software to dramatically improve the way they interact with employees during critical events.
  • Create and implement a transparent communication strategy internally and externally. This enables leadership to clearly and efficiently convey to employees, customers, providers and the public the what, why and how of the emergency. This, in turn, drives employee and customer engagement, as well as talent retention and productivity.

The Takeaway

While your workplace may not resemble an NFL team's stadium, or have ambulances and medical personnel on site, the Damar Hamlin incident offers applicable lessons for other sorts of emergency responses. For starters, it's a good reminder of the critical importance of preparation, timely action and forward-thinking leadership.

By developing and implementing an EAP; obtaining the proper supplies; effectively training employees in their emergency response and first aid responsibilities; and crafting a thoughtful HR strategy for addressing medical emergencies, employers can contribute to positive outcomes like the one achieved by Hamlin's medical team.