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Is Your Company Preparing to Take a Fall?

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In a recent NSC safety newsletter, the National Safety Council highlights an OSHA requirement that employers have a written emergency action plan. Although there are some exceptions, this policy covers nearly all employers with 11 or more employees.

Any emergency plan should be geared toward specific organizational needs – the size of your facility, the number of employees, and the hazards specific to your business or location. That plan should be reviewed at least once a year. If your facility includes areas where workers use PPE – personal protective equipment – to prevent or arrest a fall, it becomes imperative to have an actionable plan to promptly rescue that worker.

One point in fall protection safety training that is sometimes forgotten is the safe rescue of a person whose fall has been averted but is still at risk of losing a limb due to injuries related to prolonged suspension in their safety harness.

Remember, OSHA 1926.502 (d) and 1910.140 (c)(21) require that employers provide for the “prompt rescue of employees in the event of a fall.” IMPORTANT – calling 911 is NOT a rescue plan!

When properly designed and installed, a fall arrest system deploys and absorbs the forces associated with the fall. Although the primary goal has been achieved – preventing contact with a structure below and/or ground level – without a prompt rescue, the same system that arrests a worker’s fall can threaten that employee’s life.

As part of preparing your emergency-readiness plans, be sure your workers understand the dangers present after a fall is arrested. If a worker is suspended somewhere between the work surface and ground level, timing is everything in preventing what is known as suspension trauma. Confirming that you have equipment and personnel trained to rescue a fallen, suspended co-worker is part of the required OSHA mandate for fall prevention safety.

Suspension Trauma

Suspension for as little as five minutes causes blood to collect in the lower extremities. This pooling of blood reduces the flow of oxygenated blood to the brain and other vital organs including the heart and kidneys. Prolonged suspension in a harness can trigger orthostatic intolerance (also known as suspension trauma or orthostatic shock) which in severe cases, causes unconsciousness and eventual cardiac arrest.

Recognizing Symptoms of Suspension Trauma

Fall victims experiencing faintness, trouble breathing, sweating, blurred vision, dizziness, or nausea, may be approaching orthostatic intolerance.  Additional factors such as injuries sustained during the fall, fatigue, dehydration, and hypothermia can increase the risk of suspension trauma.

Preventing Suspension Trauma

The best way to prevent suspension trauma is to plan and train for rescues BEFORE a fall occurs.   Utilizing systems that minimize fall distances, employing SRL’s with built in manual or automatic descent control mechanisms, and providing body harnesses with built in trauma straps will greatly reduce the suspension trauma risks.

Monitoring Victims During and After Rescue

During rescue encourage the worker to keep their legs moving, push against available footholds, and adjust to a sitting posture with legs up as high as possible.  It is also important to instruct the victim to pump their legs frequently to maintain blood flow and prevent venous pooling.  Remember, the onset of suspension trauma can take place in as little as five minutes.

Once rescued, the worker should seek immediate medical evaluation. Suspension trauma can cause delayed internal effects such as kidney failure, which is difficult to assess at the point of rescue.

What’s Your Rescue Plan?

Planning to protect fallen workers using an effective means of prompt rescue is every employer’s responsibility.  Creating a well-defined, easily executed rescue plan is crucial to protect workers from the harmful effects of suspension trauma.

If you already have a rescue plan, review your protocols, train your employees, and practice rescues on a regular basis. Training your personnel and practicing rescue procedures before a fall gives your employees the best chance of surviving a fall/rescue without succumbing to suspension trauma.

Your training and mock drills are most useful if you and your staff keep an eye toward exposing weaknesses and areas that can be improved.

With proper training, employees recognize how to:

  • Select application specific/properly fitting PPE
  • Identify the signs of orthostatic intolerance and recognize increased risk factors
  • Quickly rescue a suspended worker to diminish suspension trauma risks

If your company does not have a formal, written rescue protocol, get to work on a plan before a fall occurs.  As the NSC newsletter points out, it certainly makes sense to go beyond compliance when it comes to keeping your workforce safe in an emergency, no matter how many employees you have.

To learn more about rescue plans and fall protection systems designed with a prompt means of rescue top of mind, contact the safety experts at Diversified Fall Protection for further assistance.

We also highly recommend the NSC Monthly News, a monthly emailed newsletter that offers timely and useful information, including:

  • NSC data and survey results
  • New NSC safety training updates
  • Seasonal safety tips
  • NSC Safety First blog posts
  • Webinars and webcasts
  • Event and conference details
  • NSC Survivor Advocate stories
  • Vehicle safety technology updates

National Safety Council also provides analysis and comment on breaking news stories as they relate to safety and their mission of eliminating preventable deaths. You can sign up for their newsletter here.

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Did You Know?

That any fall protection system must be engineered for two times the applied load in the event of a fall?