Fall Rescue - Are You Prepared?

Fall Rescue- Are You Prepared

Personal fall arrest systems are often thought to have three parts: a harness, a lanyard, and an anchor point.  In reality, there is a 4th part – one that isn’t always utilized, but is always necessary – a fall rescue plan.  When dealing with fall prevention, this isn’t necessary because if everything works as designed, nobody can fall, but when dealing with fall arrest, you need to be prepared for what to do should the equipment be deployed. 

Fall rescue is time sensitive.  If the employee is not retrieved quickly enough, they can suffer from orthostatic intolerance (also known as suspension trauma).  This occurs when a person is held upright without moving for an extended period of time. The longer they stay in that position, the more blood begins to pool in the legs (venous pooling).  As a result, less blood will be moving through the body, eventually causing a drop in blood pressure.  This drop in blood pressure could lead to fainting and ultimately death if the person is not released.  In addition, returning the person to a horizontal position too quickly after extended suspension could cause blood to rush back to the heart too fast, resulting in cardiac arrest.  Either way, it’s important to rescue the employee quickly.

While suspension trauma could occur in minutes, there are products out there to help extend the time in which a worker can be safely suspended.  Portable rescue ladders, suspension loops and other post-fall supports, can all alleviate the symptoms of suspension trauma, giving you extra time to perform a rescue.  Keep in mind, however, that if the employee became unconscious during the fall, they will not be able to utilize many of these devices, so time will still be of the essence.

Regardless of whether or not you have rescue devices or your employee is conscious, you need to know how you are going to rescue him or her.  If you are relying on your local fire department, it is a very good idea to go and have a conversation with them about this if you haven’t already.  Are they capable of performing a rescue at the heights you will be working?  Are they equipped and trained?  You may find that some squads are and many squads are not. 

The rescue may very well be on your shoulders.  And, if it is, you need a plan. 

The first thing you’ll need to do is determine if you are using a third party rescue team or if you’ll be performing those duties in-house.  If you are going to train your own personnel to perform a rescue, there is very specific training that will be required.  If you work in a manufacturing facility or plant where things tend to not change very often, you can probably develop your rescue plan once, then train your personnel on it periodically and run drills.  You should review it every so often in order to ensure it is up to date and effective.  If you are working in a more dynamic setting, such as a construction site, you will need to draw up a new fall rescue plan for at least every job site, however probably even more frequently than that.  Each task, each location, each set of circumstances could require a new plan.  And, if you have subcontractors on the job that are exposed to fall hazards, find out what their plan is.  You can and very well may be help at least partially responsible for their employees if a fall was to occur.

If you are going to outsource, don’t just grab the first name you find in the yellow pages (remember those? Okay, fine, don’t grab the first name you Google) and certainly don’t just grab the cheapest guy you come across.  Do your research.  Invite them to your site.  Find out what they’re capable of.  Get some background and references.  You are putting your employees’ lives in the hands of this company, you owe it to them to make sure the company can do what you need it to do.

A fall rescue plan can be achieved in a variety of ways, but it won’t be achieved at all if the first time you think about it is when a worker is dangling from a building.  Be prepared with knowledgeable, capable, properly trained personnel and ensure that the life saved by the harness and lanyard wasn’t just saved briefly.

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