Fall arrest systems should not be used if at all possible. Try to find a workaround if at all possible by referencing the Hierarchy of Fall Protection — using either fall restraint or fall prevention to perform a job with a higher level of safety. You just might save the life of one of your employees.
Many people who work at heights often wear personal protection equipment or PPE, which most likely includes a full body harness. This harness keeps the worker from hitting the ground if a fall occurs but in some instances a worker’s harness could be the very piece of equipment that kills him/her, especially in a case where the worker is knocked unconscious. If a worker falls but remains conscious, he/she can pump their legs to keep the blood flowing throughout the body. However, if unconscious, other workers need to know how to get that person down quickly. And by quickly, we’re talking minutes.
If fall arrest systems truly are the only option for the job at hand, then all workers should be trained to bring a fallen worker to safety quickly. The reason is the possibility of harness hang syndrome, which also goes by the names “suspension trauma” and “harness hang”. This is a serious situation that can occur quickly when the body is held upright without any movement. If a worker is strapped into a harness he/she can faint within minutes. If the person faints and remains vertical, oxygen is not getting to the brain and death is possible.
In a bit more scientific terms, because the harness is holding the body tightly at the legs, blood accumulates in the leg veins (venous pooling) because it cannot circulate. If the individual moves suddenly after being sedentary for a long time orthostatic intolerance can occur. Orthostatic intolerance is the symptoms that develop while hanging upright that are then intensified upon lying down. During severe venous pooling, the reduction of oxygen content in the blood flowing to the brain causes fainting. This can have an effect on other organs including kidneys. The kidneys are very sensitive to blood oxygen so with excessive venous pooling renal failure can also occur.
A fallen worker must be rescued within several minutes using proper safe procedures so that venous pooling and orthostatic intolerance do not cause a serious or fatal injury. Testing shows that harness hang syndrome symptoms can appear in healthy subjects in an average of 6 minutes.
Symptoms of Harness Hang Syndrome:
• An overall feeling of illness (like the flu)
• Sweating, dizziness, nausea and hot flashes
• Then difficulty breathing and increased heart rate
• Later cardiac arrythmias begin and a jump in blood pressure will be followed by loss of consciousness
• Death occurs within minutes if the worker is not released quickly
As long as the worker is able to move around, shifting his/her weight and keeping busy, harness hang is not an issue. But can your company really afford to leave that up to fate? If one of your workers falls can you be certain he/she will not hit anything on the way down and also remain conscious until someone can lower that worker to the ground? It’s better for all companies to employ a fall prevention plan. Carbis can create fall prevention equipment to fit your company’s specific needs. Contact us today and we’ll help you create a safer workplace that meets or exceeds OSHA requirements and keeps employees from falling in the first place.