5 Things You Need to Know About Fall Rescue and Retrieval

5 Things You Need to Know About Fall Rescue and Retrieval

One of the most neglected aspects of Fall Protection is the rescue and retrieval plan.  Sure, you've selected your harnesses and lanyards, debated the feasibility of railings, and calculated your fall distance, but what do you intend to do once the worker has fallen?  While the worker is dangling from the structure is not the best time to develop a plan.  The time is now, before work at heights begins.  Here are five things you need to consider when developing the rescue and retrieval plan:

1. You Don't Have A Lot Of Time

Whatever plan you come up with needs to happen fast.  Orthostatic Intolerance – also known as Suspension Trauma – can occur in as little as 20-30 minutes and sometimes less, depending on a person's health and/or the nature of any injuries sustained in the fall.  Rescue needs to begin immediately.  But what is your plan?  Are you positioning a lift beneath him to which he can be lowered?  How long will it take to get the lift there?  Is the ground below safe for a lift?  Questions like these need to be answered ahead of time because if you're doing it after a fall, you're wasting precious time. 

According to an informational bulletin released by OSHA (https://www.osha.gov/dts/shib/shib032404.html) Suspension Trauma's symptoms include faintness, breathlessness, sweating, paleness, hot flashes, increased heart rate, nausea, dizziness, low heart rate, low blood pressure, and greying (loss of vision).  Factors that can affect the severity include inability to move the legs, pain, injuries during the fall, fatigue, dehydration, hypothermia, shock, cardiovascular or respiratory disease, and blood loss.

Suspension Trauma occurs due to the pooling of blood in the legs (due to gravity and exacerbated by circulation being cut off by the harness).  Adding to the danger of Suspension Trauma itself is the fact that when a person who is suffering from Suspension Trauma is brought to the ground, the natural reaction will be to lay them down.  This can cause the pooled blood to rush back to the heart too quickly, sending the worker into cardiac arrest.  Again, time is of the essence so that it never gets to this point.

2. A Rescue Plan Is Not One Size Fits All

What works in one instance for fall rescue and retrieval will not necessarily work in the next instance.  Rescue from a high-rise, for example, will be much different than rescue from the construction of a one or two story office building.  And, not only will your plan need to be different from project to project, but it will also possibly need to be different from one phase of a job to the next.  Perhaps when the steel is up, the sub-grade levels have been completed, and the area around the building has been back-filled and compacted, an aerial lift can be used for rescue, but what do you do while that mass excavation is still open?  What if a large concrete pad is being poured right where you need to set up the lift?

Construction is dynamic – the environment is in a constant state of change.  Because of this, your plan must be constantly reviewed.  In certain general industry settings, you may be able to come up with one plan, insert it into your corporate health and safety program, train to it, and rest reasonably assured that you are covered.  Construction, in most cases, will not allow you this luxury.  Your rescue and retrieval plan must be not only site-specific, but it must also be location, phase, and task specific while considering surrounding work activities.

3. Your Victim May Not Be Able To Help

Products exist that help prolong the amount of time before Suspension Trauma sets in.  For example, you may have a pack on your harness that can be deployed in the event of a fall which contains straps – or steps – into which you can place your feet to relieve the pressure on your legs.  This is an excellent product but it relies on one very critical assumption – that your victim is conscious.  Whether the straps are manually deployed or automatically deployed from the force of the fall, the victim will still need to be able to step into them.

Additionally, if you've got people working alone at heights, how do you know they've fallen?  Can you see everywhere your employees are working?  Is somebody on constant watch to make sure there's nobody hanging from a lanyard?  Sure, the workers have phones or radios, but refer back to the previous paragraph – just like you can't step into a strap, you can't make a radio or phone call if you're unconscious.  Nor can you make one if your radio or phone was dislodged in the fall, plummeting to the ground five stories below.  Keep this in mind when developing your plan and, better yet, never allow anybody to work at heights by themselves.

4. They Make Stuff For This

You don't need to re-invent the wheel every time you come up with a rescue plan, nor do you have to jury-rig some customized equipment (and, in fact, you shouldn't).  A simple web search shows you that equipment and kits exist that are designed for just this purpose (for example: fall protection rescue equipment).  Figure out your particular circumstances, review available equipment, and devise your plan.   Also, know your limitations – just because a kit or piece of equipment does exist, doesn't necessarily mean the personnel you have in place are capable of utilizing it.  They must be trained and demonstrate the ability to do what is necessary.  Let's not forget: somebody's life is literally on the line.  If you feel the rescue is beyond your abilities, speak to your local fire department to see if they are trained and if it's feasible for them to be on-site during the work. Obviously, this would most likely not be possible for an entire job, but perhaps it would be for one particularly difficult task.  If the local fire department isn't trained, is there a private entity capable of rescue at heights?

5. Was It Even Necessary In The First Place?

Remember OSHA's hierarchy of controls?  The first is, can you engineer out the hazard?  While you will not be able to eliminate every fall hazard in construction, maybe there are ways to eliminate the hazard during certain tasks.  Have you looked at the possibility of rails instead of fall arrest?  Have you considered a retractable lanyard instead of a 6' lanyard with a deceleration device?  What about travel restraint so that your personnel cannot reach the edge?  Obviously, sometimes the answer is going to be that you have considered other possibilities and they are just not feasible.  That's fine, but the important thing is that you did consider them.  It's hard to believe anybody wouldn't agree with the statement that preventing somebody from falling is better than rescuing them after they've fallen, so why not plan your jobs that way?  If you can eliminate the fall, you can eliminate the need for rescue and retrieval.  If you eliminate the need for rescue, you've eliminated the possibility of Suspension Trauma. 

In a perfect world, rescue would always be simple.  Then again, in a perfect world, maybe our workers would be able to fly.  We are forced to face the realities of this world and those realities are that falls still remain the number one killer in construction and the fatalities are not always caused by the fall itself, but are sometimes caused by the aftermath.  Those working at heights need to be prepared and need to act fast so that a would-be rescued worker does not become another statistic.

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