"Don't leave me hangin' "

November 1, 2005
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So you’ve provided the latest and best fall-arrest systems, good body harness, lanyard with a decelerating device, strong anchorage. Isn’t that enough? Ever thought about what happens when someone falls and ends up 80 feet above grade? Whether it’s steeplejack climbing towers, a painter working on a water tower, or a maintenance worker walking on a pipe rack, if a worker is caught after a fall, OSHA regulations call for “prompt” rescue. What does that mean? How do you achieve it?

Most people don’t consider the need for rescue because they intuitively believe that the fall-arrest equipment implies rescue. While stopping a worker from falling to the ground is, indeed, the first part of a save, the save is not complete until the worker is safely transported to the ground. One recommended goal for providing “prompt” rescue is six minutes.

Plan ahead

Pre-planning can help to prevent a calamity at height. While you are planning your work-at-height activity, perform a “what if” analysis. Imagine worst-case scenarios on the job and what could happen if a fall occurred. Are there obstacles in the fall zone that could injure the falling worker? Is there a potential swing load effect that could cause the worker to pendulum sideways into an obstacle?

Can an integral rescue device be used with the fall protection system? If not, how are you going to affect a rescue? After computing the fall distance, is there a safe, quick means of removing the worker, such as a ten-foot stepladder or a man-lift that can quickly be moved under the worker? If your rescue attempt fails, do you have a backup plan, such as calling an outside rescue service to respond to your site? And if so, how do you plan to stabilize or support the worker while waiting for the service to respond?

The right training

One element for providing prompt rescue is, of course, training. Authorized people should be trained for the specific work-at-height activity and for specific fall hazards they might encounter. This training should be hands-on and include the trainee donning the harness properly, checking their anchorage attachments, and being suspended a couple of feet off the ground for at least five minutes so that they and their fellow trainees recognize the need for prompt response.

Then check for adequate clearance should they fall. You need anywhere from eight to 22 feet to avoid contact injuries, depending on the equipment you provide. Your qualified person certifies that proper anchorages are available.

Cover all bases

So, you’ve provided the proper fall-arrest system. Now you must plan for a fall in the location the work is to take place, try to determine what can happen during the fall, and then decide which rescue technique will best work for those circumstances you have foreseen.

Self-rescue is always the best; it’s the basic response level. A fallen worker is able to move to safety under his own power. This can occur by the worker swinging himself over to a platform or structure that allows him to climb up to safety. The worker should NOT disengage himself from fall protection until he is safely on firm ground or structure. Can you plan to make this form of rescue possible?

If not, decide if you can plan for an assisted self-rescue, whereby a co-worker or co-workers help the fallen worker to self-rescue. Maybe they provide a stepladder, rope or wire ladder, or maybe someone drives a scissor or aerial lift to the fall site. Be sure that the equipment used is designated “rescue equipment.”

Don’t make the mistake of hoping a lift will be available. Ensure it is by having it on-site with a designated operator who knows how to move it in for rescue from fall arrest. There are special considerations for this level of rescue. You’ll need to check that the workplace area and height directly below the potential fall area permits use of lifts. And, of course, you need time to order and receive this equipment before work-at-height begins.

Advanced response

Then there’s a more advanced response level. In this case a co-worker activates in-place raising or lowering equipment, or a rescue team gets to the fallen worker for rescue. Here’s where advanced training is required. Whether you have an on-site team or one called from off-site, be sure they’re fully trained and familiar with the potential fall site. That means they should have been on-site to train and may mean they are capable in rope and high angle rescue techniques.

These teams should practice rescue skills at least quarterly and be able to respond to a fall quickly. This could even mean that rescuers are present during the activity with their anchorages and equipment pre-rigged before anyone starts work-at-height.

While it is not always possible to predict every scenario, it is recommended that your team trains to the highest level of expertise. A response team should consist of at least three trained rescuers to affect a high angle save.

Bottom line: recognize that two rescues must occur in a fall protection program. Plan for arresting the fall, and plan for the second save, or rescue, in order to meet your dual needs of compliance and preparedness.

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