Recently, much has been written about "harness suspension trauma" or "orthostatic intolerance" in various professional journals. This has served to heighten the awareness levels of safety professionals who have employees who work at elevation and utilize personal fall arrest systems (PFAS); however, little has been written on rescue planning in the event an employee's PFAS has successfully arrested a fall.
Harness suspension trauma is a life-threatening emergency and requires rapid response, particularly if the victim is vertically suspended and unconscious. Victims can die within a very short period of time if not promptly rescued and may still die after rescue if proper medical care is not administered. Without proper rescue planning and training, an employee may die while waiting for co-workers to summon professional assistance or organize and conduct a rescue by themselves. This paper will discuss the steps in developing an effective rescue plan, available rescue equipment resources and the necessary training.
In 29 CFR 1926.502 (d) (20), it states "employers shall provide for prompt rescue of employees in the event of a fall or shall assure that employees are able to rescue themselves". OSHA correspondence has since clarified that "prompt" requires that rescue be performed quickly-in time to prevent serious injury to the worker. Studies conducted on harness suspension trauma indicate that serious injury can occur within fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes is not much time, even if you are prepared. If you're not prepared, then the fall victim may be at grave risk.
Some companies try to simplify the rescue requirements by stating their intent to call the local fire department rescue team to perform the rescue. This might work in some cases, but many fire departments don't have high-angle rescue training or equipment. If your work will take place in a large urban area or a mountainous region, then a high-angle rescue team may be available to respond to your site. If this is the case, then your first step should be to determine which emergency department has jurisdiction. Arrange a meeting with them to discuss what resources they may have available for a rescue. Go over your scope of work and the various possible rescue scenarios that could occur. If possible, arrange to have a joint rescue drill to test your plan and the rescue team. Most emergency departments will welcome the opportunity to conduct a realistic training drill. Be sure to take any lessons learned from the drill and incorporate them into a revised rescue plan and then educate everyone on the revisions. Even if a trained rescue unit is available, the employer should still train workers in basic rescue methods that can be conducted immediately. The outside rescue team could be responding to another incident and be unavailable just when you need them.