"Hanging in There" After the Fall

Falls continue to be one of the most common causes of workplace injury, and lack of proper fall protection is one of the most frequent OSHA violations. Preventing falls is only part of the plan to keep workers safe. A commonly overlooked component of a fall protection program is promptly rescuing workers in order to prevent additional injuries.

Workers are at high risk of injury, even death, from fall arrest, even if there is no immediate evidence of trauma. Prolonged suspension can cause orthostatic intolerance (circulatory and/or neurologic stress) and suspension trauma as the legs are immobilized at a point below the heart.

OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1926.502(d) requires that employers provide for “prompt rescue of employees in the event of a fall or shall assure that employees are able to rescue themselves.” Your rescue procedures should address how the suspended worker will be handled to avoid any post-rescue injuries.

Research indicates that suspension in a fall arrest device can result in unconsciousness, followed by death, in less than 30 minutes. Danger begins when someone is unable to move for as little as 5 minutes.  The tolerance can vary from person to person, but the negative effects can set in quickly. Without training and an effective procedure, it may take coworkers an hour or more from the time of the fall to even begin the rescue procedures themselves.

Items to include in your rescue plan:

  • Emergency contact information of professional rescue services, and instructions for requesting immediate assistance. Immediate assistance can vary significantly depending on job site locations. Rescue plans should be job site specific.
  • Notify third-party rescue services in advance of the type of work being performed and the potential fall hazards.
  • Ensure equipment for rescue service is available at the job site (i.e., ladders, elevating work platforms, additional harnesses, winches, pulleys, etc.).
  • What obstructions may be in the way of accessing the suspended worker?
  • How will rescue be provided within 15 minutes of the fall to minimize the risk of further injury or death due to suspension trauma?
  • How will the safety of the people performing the rescue be assured?
  • Identify how communication between the suspended worker and rescuers will be handled.

Fall rescue is necessary for a complete and effective fall arrest program to ensure your employees are not only protected from falls, but protected beyond the fall.

For more information on fall protection, search the term “fall protection” at the top of the page.

Reference; Seddon, Paul. Harness Suspension: Review and evaluation of existing information. Health and Safety Executive. Research Report 451/2002. 104 pp.