One of the most overlooked parts of a fall protection program is the rescue plan. Most companies have a clear and concise fall protection plan in place, but even the most safety conscious organizations fail to have a clearly defined fall protection rescue plan.
Imagine this scenario. A worker sustains a fall from a tower. He has just fallen and sustained potentially bone-jarring impact and is just hanging in midair, unable to lift or lower himself to a safer level. He had received fall protection training on how to use his fall arrest system properly. Everything from his anchor point, connectors, harness and his self-retracting lifeline worked exactly as planned. Yet, what’s often overlooked are the dangers that occur post-fall. In this case, the emergency is just beginning.
The Dangers after a Fall
A fall victim has a limited window of time —15 minutes to 2 hours— to either self-rescue or be assisted to safer level before suffering the physical effects of the fall. Orthostatic intolerance occurs when a worker is subjected to constant pressure on vital arteries, typically in the leg and groin area, from the harness. Side effects that can occur from lack of proper blood flow include dizziness, weakness, blurred vision, unconsciousness, oxygen deprivation and hypotension, numbness of legs or even permanent damage or death. Delayed health concerns are also a common cause for concern and include kidney failure, among others. Workers who sustain a head injury from a fall are at even greater risk.
Rescue procedures under OSHA 29 CFR 1926.502 (d) require that employers provide for “prompt rescue of employees in the event of a fall or shall assure that employees are able to rescue themselves.” By having a rescue plan and specialized equipment in place, you can give your workers a fighting chance to save their lives.
If self-rescue is impossible, or if rescue cannot be performed promptly, the worker should be trained to “pump” his/her legs frequently to activate the muscles and reduce the risk of venous pooling.
Here are some great options that will help you create the best rescue plan for your worksite:
- Automatic Descent Device: Automatic descent control kit with body sling, anchoring carabiner, rope spool and carrying bag. Also available in varying lengths
- Rescue and Decent Kit: Offers the choice of controlled descent rescue, evacuation or the versatility of assisted rescue with lifting capabilities. Unique bidirectional design allows one end of the lifeline to descent while the other ascends, ready for another rescue
- Self-Rescue Harness: Personal rescue device harness allows for self-rescue, simply by pulling release cord. Has quick connect buckle chest and leg connections and back D-ring
Do you have a rescue plan in place in the event that a worker falls from heights? Follow this simple checklist created by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to ensure every worker knows the steps to rescue a fallen worker:
OSHA Rescue Plan Checklist
- Gain an understanding of the physical environment you will be working in
- Determine the proximity of a professional rescue team
- Determine if 911 works from the area where you would be calling
- Determine approximate response time for 911 responders
- Understand the type of rescue that may be necessary (lowering a victim from a ladder, platform or manbasket)
- Determine who is trained to do the rescue
- Decide if the rescuers will be on-site or stand-by. If stand-by, determine the response time
- Perform a job safety analysis of the rescue. - Is the victim clear of obstructions when s/he is lowered? - Does the lifeline deploy correctly? - Is the lifeline long enough? - Can you see the victim throughout the entire rescue operation?
Rescue Equipment and Supplies that should be on site:
- Rescue devices that can raise or lower a victim, such as a controlled rate descent device
- Ropes and lifelines rated for rescue and evacuation
- Rolling edge protectors or Velcro edge protectors to protect the rope from sharp edges and abrasion
- Designated anchor points for rescue equipment (rated at least 3100 pounds)
- Anchor straps and carabiners for making an anchor point when one is not available or convenient
- First aid kit and defibrillator
It doesn’t end there. Every post-fall rescue plan needs to have trained personnel, or competent persons on site. Calling 911 does not constitute having a rescue plan. In many cases, especially on rural jobsites, emergency personnel just aren’t in the vicinity to offer aid in those critical first minutes. OSHA regulations insist that contact must be made with a fallen worker within 15 minutes, while ANSI Z359 recommends that contact be made within 7 minutes! Having a competent person designated to calmly and effectively deal with these emergency situations could potentially save a life.
Fall protection safety requirements are complicated; make sure you are up to speed with recent changes and updates. Ensure your fall protection systems will protect workers when they need it most. For even further training on this topic, check out this helpful Fall Prevention and Protection Video from Convergence!
No one wants to have to think about the worst case scenario, but when it comes to a fall, every second counts.