Are You Rescue Ready or Need Rescuing?Written by Stefan Bright
IWCA Safety Director
The Need for Rescue Plans
Imagine if you were on a jobsite and your or your co-worker was in full fall arrest hanging on the side of a building in your harness . . . What now?
Workers face considerable danger hanging in their harness after a fall. This danger is even higher in the absence of a well thought-out, detailed and fully implemented rescue plan. The best rescue strategy is to take every possible precaution to prevent the worker from falling in the first place.
But the reality is that falls may still happen, and a rescue plan is an essential component of any organization that uses fall arrest systems. The lack of a formal pre-conceived post-fall rescue plan not only puts the fall victim at risk but also puts rescuers in harm's way. Whenever there are unplanned attempts to rescue, additional injuries or fatalities may not be uncommon. Being experience in your trade does not necessarily make you a qualified or competent rescuer. That takes a plan and proper training!
A worker who has suffered a fall and is suspended in his harness is a true medical emergency. Just because they are hanging in a harness doesn't mean there is plenty of time to perform a rescue. Rescue has to be planned, practiced and performed quickly and effectively or the victim may very well die before the rescue finally occurs.
OSHA requires that employers provide for "prompt rescue of employees in the event of a fall or shall assure that employees are able to rescue themselves." This should include identifying rescue procedures that address the potential for orthostatic intolerance and suspension trauma. Rescue procedures also should address how the rescued worker will be handled to avoid any post-rescue injuries.
The reason this is so important is the suspended worker is at risk of orthostatic intolerance and suspension trauma which can quickly become a life-threatening emergency. To better understand this condition the following bulletin clearly outlines the stages and symptoms.
- Handling various fall scenarios and fallen worker conditions
- Preventing the rescuer from also becoming a victim
- Preventing prolonged suspension and the likelihood of suspension trauma
- Performing rescue and treatment as quickly as possible
- Identifying orthostatic intolerance signs and symptoms
Management's reasonability for safety needs to consider carefully the methodology of rescuing a fallen operative. How you perform your work will also impact the methodology such as rope descent systems or suspended scaffold systems.
Self-Rescue when done quickly and properly is the most effective type of rescue and will avoid suspension trauma. If a worker is not injured and is trained on how to transfer weight to relieve the pressure from their harness as well utilize a secondary line with the proper descent equipment they are more likely to do so in a relatively short period of time and avoid additional injury or trauma. Also, no other workers are in harms way attempting to rescue the suspended worker.
Sometimes a rescue is needed when there is not a fall but rather an equipment or line failure and the workers is stuck in position. Is the worker able to rescue themselves? Perhaps extra equipment onsite or on the worker such as a self-rescue kit will be sufficient. Or perhaps deployment and use of a backup system will be used in the event of a line or equipment failure. Supply the worker with a foot strap, or knowledge of how to make a loop for their foot from their rope as well as utilization of a backup descent mechanism. Remember, workers must be trained on how to utilize that extra equipment to reach safety. If self-rescue is not able to be done, then assisted or partner rescue will need to take place.
It is often thought that the word 'rescue' means calling 911. While it is good to do so for additional assistance and treatment of a fallen worker calling the Local Area Fire & Rescue Service does not constitute an effective rescue plan. By the time they arrive and get to the worker too much time may have elapsed, and suspension trauma may already be present.
This option for rescue can have its limitations such as available access and height restriction as the worker may be at a height greater than the reach of the Aerial Lift.
Assisted or partner rescue is a form of rope rescue that requires a technical competency, which demands a high level of training and re-training to acquire and retain this skill set. Given the limited time to complete a rescue, trained rope rescue personnel would need to be onsite or near the incident. Workers who are trained in performing their job duties using rope access or rope descent systems should also be fully trained in self and assisted rope rescue. Using the necessary kit to carry out a rope rescue can also be time consuming given that every minute the casualty is hanging is critical. That is why it is crucial to have your rescue kit onsite.
Whichever methodology is chosen, the target time should be to rescue the suspended worker as soon as possible. Symptoms of suspense trauma can start in as little as five minutes. A worker can quickly become unconscious from orthostatic intolerance and their condition move to critical and life threatening a few minutes after.
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