According to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, falls make up a significant percentage of workplace injuries and deaths in the construction industry. If your job takes you to elevated areas, are you confident that your fall arrest equipment will save you? Do you realize that, even if it arrests your fall, you can suffer suspension trauma and die?
It might be a good idea to look at your employer’s rescue plans for such incidents because what happens in the minutes after a fall is critical. If you are suspended after a fall, your life could be on the line in as little as 10 minutes.
What is suspension trauma?
Also called orthostatic shock, suspension trauma starts immediately after the arrest of the fall because the blood circulation in your legs becomes compromised. The straps of the harness around your legs restrict the flow of deoxygenated blood in the veins to the heart. When this happens, the heart rate slows down and starves the brain of oxygen.
How can you prevent suspension trauma?
The hanging of your legs is what causes the emergency, and if you could stand, the leg muscles would contract and allow the blood in your legs to circulate. The following steps might save your life:
- Your fall arrest system should have trauma relief straps in pouches on either side of the harness, which you can deploy to form loops below your feet. If you then step onto the looped straps and stand on them, your blood can flow freely.
- If possible, the rescue team can pull you toward a fixed structure on which you can stand.
- Rescuers can deploy an aerial lift, ladder or other equipment to allow you to stand on your feet instead of hanging in the harness.
The risk continues
You may or may not lose consciousness while suspended, and rescuers must be careful in the way they handle you. Carbon dioxide will saturate the blood in your legs, and if they put you in a horizontal position, your heart will not be able to cope with the sudden increase of blood flow. This is how post-rescue fatalities occur. The safe manner is to let you sit with your knees pulled up to your chest, and you should remain in that position for about 30 minutes.
Emergency workers will likely transport you to the hospital, where you will receive appropriate medical care. You might be concerned about the medical bills and lost wages resulting from your fall, but help is available. An attorney who has experience in dealing with the California workers’ compensation system can assist with the navigation of a benefits claim.