Hanging in a harness

June 9, 2009
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Put yourself in the shoes of a construction site supervisor. You’ve just been told that a worker has fallen from the tenth story of a building under construction. Luckily, the worker was tied off and is conscious and suspended in his harness, awaiting rescue.

What next?

If your first thought is to call emergency services to get the worker down, you may be adding unnecessary minutes to the rescue, potentially putting the worker in danger. Your first action should be to consult the on-site rescue plan to determine the most appropriate and timely rescue method. If you’re asking yourself what a rescue plan is, read on.

What’s the plan?
A rescue plan is usually part of a comprehensive fall protection program. Whenever a fall arrest system has been identified as the appropriate control method for a fall hazard, a rescue plan must be in place.

Your rescue plan should identify who will perform the rescue — whether an in-house rescue team, emergency services or a combination of the two — what type of rescue equipment will be used at each fall hazard, and proper rescue procedures. The plan will also assign responsibilities, such as inspection and maintenance of rescue equipment, recordkeeping, accident investigation, training and changes to the plan.

OSHA requires prompt rescue for fallen workers. Guidelines on what “prompt” means differ between the OSHA and ANSI standards, but the generally accepted guideline is to ensure full rescue within five minutes, but no longer than 15 minutes. Emergency services cannot always guarantee a response within that timeframe, especially in rural areas, which is why the rescue plan must include an in-house rescue team.

Timely rescue is important because of the possibility of injuries. Even if the worker was not injured during or prior to the fall, a worker hanging in a harness could suffer injuries due to suspension trauma — a condition in which lack of motion and constricted veins may cause blood to pool. Suspension trauma does not always result in long-term injuries, but the possibility demands prompt action.

If you’ve determined that emergency services will not be able to perform a timely rescue, you need to activate your rescue team to get that fallen worker to the ground. The team will include a combination of competent persons and authorized persons who have been trained to assume the roles of competent rescuer and authorized rescuer. The authorized rescuer is the person in charge of performing or assisting with the rescue.

Self-rescue
The rescue team will first need to identify whether the suspended worker can perform a self-rescue, whereby the worker climbs or pulls himself or herself to safety. Fortunately, self-rescue is a possibility in 90 percent of rescue situations.

If the suspended worker is injured, unconscious or has fallen at a location that makes self-rescue impossible, intervention takes the form of mechanically-aided rescue. Aid can come in a number of forms, including a rope system, hoist line or aerial lift. If aerial lifts and hoist lines are not in use at locations that present fall hazards, a pre-engineered rope system must be readily available to perform the rescue. Another ideal piece of equipment to mandate as a part of a rescue plan is suspension trauma straps. This device, which is attached to a worker’s harness, allows the worker to relieve pressure by “stepping” into the strap, which is deployed post-fall.

Appropriate equipment to perform a rescue at a particular fall hazard will be identified in the rescue plan, making it essential for the plan to be updated as the work environment changes. This is of particular importance in construction, as the fall hazards and equipment change as work progresses.

Rescue team members must be trained in the various rescue procedures and practice using rescue equipment on a regular basis. They must also be familiar with the rescue plan and know where it is kept. Finally, ensure your rescue plan is continuously audited. Have any new fall hazards been identified? Have any hazards been eliminated? Is there new equipment available for performing rescues? Is the rescue team trained on how to use that equipment? If a fall occurs, did the rescue go as well as it could have? If not, what can be improved?

The most important aspect of rescue is getting the worker down quickly and safely. If a rescue plan can shed minutes off a rescue and ensure the worker’s well-being, the time spent analyzing each fall hazard and developing appropriate rescue procedures is well worth it.



SIDEBAR: Recent Developments

3600 LBS. RATED SNAP HOOKS AND CARABINERS – 3600 refers to the forces generated on the “GATE”. Currently products only need to meet 220 lbs. on the side impact and 350 lbs. on the frontal impact.

DOUBLE-LEGGED LANYARDS (retractable and standard straight versions) – Attach directly to the harness as opposed to the back “D” ring, allowing additional safety to the user for SRL (lifeline.) It also reduces free fall, minimizes the risk of potential impalement and reduces forces generated on the user’s body.

LANYARDS – Allow the user to connect or attach the locking safety snap hook back into itself. Available in single- or twin-leg versions.

STACKABLE SRLS – Ideal for the tool room manager because they occupy less space and are easy to handle.

PERSONAL SRLS – Sized down to six feet, are retractable, lightweight, compact and user-friendly.

SUSPENSION TRAUMA SYSTEMS (for use with harnesses) – Allow the user to relieve pressure created by the harness in a fall on the femoral artery. Trauma straps are easy to use and deploy and can be used with the majority of harnesses found on the market today.

COMPACT SIZE VACUUM ANCHORS – Allow the users to utilize this suction anchor system virtually anywhere they have a flat surface and no other anchor point options available (i.e. tanks, airplanes, railcars, etc.).

RETRACTABLE HORIZONTAL LIFELINES – Allow for increased mobility, efficiency and ease of installment and are diverse in their uses. A user is also more apt to have an accurate installation (providing anchor points and structure meet 5,000 lbs. rating) when using retractable lifelines.

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