The plan, of course, is to prevent falls on the job all together. But they do happen. This is why fall protection is so important--harnesses, lanyards, anchorage connectors, etc.
But what happens when a fall does occur? The worker may be have been saved from the fall, but now he or she is suspended in a harness. Depending on how long it takes to rescue the person, this could very well be fatal.
This hazard, called suspension trauma, is an often overlooked feature of a fall protection program. Specifically, when a fall does occur, what can be done to prevent suspension trauma while the victim is waiting to be rescued.
What Is Suspension Trauma?
OSHA defines suspension trauma this way:
Following a fall, a worker may remain suspended in a harness. The sustained immobility may lead to a state of unconsciousness. Depending on the length of time the suspended worker is unconscious/immobile and the level of venous pooling, the resulting orthostatic intolerance may lead to death. Such fatalities often are referred to as “harness induced pathology” or “suspension trauma." (1)
Death from suspension trauma can occur in as little as 30 minutes. The reason for death is that the brain and kidneys are deprived of blood and oxygen. However, the time to death can vary based on a number of factors: the fall itself, the fit of the harness, the overall health of the worker, or whether the victim remains conscious.
How To Prevent Suspension Trauma
OSHA's preferred method of prevention is to rescue the fallen worker from suspension as quickly as possible. They would like to see rescues completed within 30 minutes. It is the employers responsibility to quickly deploy a rescue solution. Rescue is not to be an after thought.
However, even if rescue is deployed quickly, there is inexpensive technology available for the suspended worker--Suspension Trauma Straps. This inexpensive solution provides assurance for the victim and the employer that suspension trauma will not be an issue.