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Safety Tips | Fall protection

Protecting workers from suspension trauma

January 12, 2011

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Fall protection is designed to save a worker’s life, but it also can create risks in certain situations. If a worker is suspended for too long, he or she may develop what is known as suspension trauma.

Remaining immobile for extended periods can cause blood to pool in the legs, reducing the flow of oxygenated blood to the heart and brain. When this occurs to someone in the standing position, the victim loses consciousness and falls to a horizontal position, normalizing blood flow. A worker in a fall-protection harness, however, will not be able to fall to the horizontal position and normalize blood flow, creating the potential for fatal health problems.

Recognizing the signs of suspension trauma is critical, according to OSHA. Faintness, breathlessness, sweating, paleness, nausea, dizziness and loss of vision all indicate that a worker may be suffering the effects of suspension trauma.

OSHA requires workers using fall-arrest devices to be trained on how to use them properly and recommends workers be taught:

  • How to properly fit fall-protection devices and other personal protective equipment
  • How to recognize signs of suspension trauma
  • How to recognize factors that might increase risk
  • How to quickly rescue a suspended worker to diminish these risks

A safe and prompt rescue is key to preventing suspension trauma. If a rescue is not possible in a timely fashion, instruct suspended workers to pump their legs frequently to maintain blood flow and prevent venous pooling. While suspended, workers should be continuously monitored for any of the above-mentioned signs of trauma.

Once rescued, the worker should be carefully evaluated by a health care professional.

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