Just after you have ordered your fall protection equipment (hopefully from pksafety.com) is the perfect time to update your rescue plan. What? You don’t have a rescue plan? Well, you are not alone. Many conscientious companies provide equipment and training for the PPE issued on site, but fail to see the scenarios through. What happens to your workers after a fall occurs?
The danger of suspension trauma – where blood flow is cut off by harness straps when a fallen worker is suspended by a lifeline or shock-absorbing lanyard - is one reason to put a plan in place. (Prevent this by arming your team with trauma straps.) Another thing to consider is the fact that areas which require fall protection are often isolated or difficult to reach in the first place. A fall that leaves a worker suspended, perhaps injured, will present many difficulties for on-site and off-site rescuers.
Although OSHA doesn’t set a specific time frame for rescue to take place, you should take a minute to think about how long you’d want to be hanging out to dry. In their article Scott Mirizzi and Nolan Miller point out the fact that the Air Force did tests on the effects of “motionless suspension” in 1987 and found some very fit test subjects who were extremely uncomfortable after only 3.5 minutes.
OSHA language recommends prompt rescue, but it doesn’t take much imagination to see would-be rescuers might put themselves at risk to assist an injured co-worker if a plan isn’t in place.
ANSI, typically one-upping OSHA, says in standard Z359.2 that rescue should be prompt, and at least verbal contact should be made within six minutes. If you are simply planning on calling 911, you might want to think that plan through a bit more. Often local departments have limitations on how high they can go. Site restrictions on getting equipment to a fallen worker may also provide a hindrance to rescue.
If self-rescue is impossible, on-site rescue is the next best thing. Workers should know where rescue equipment is located, and your rescue plan should outline how the rescue equipment is deployed. Even if 911 or other outside rescue teams are called, on-site personnel can provide valuable information to arriving teams by staying in contact with the victim, helping clear access areas and driveways, and informing rescue parties about on-site hazards or equipment that may help with rescue operations.
As with any emergency procedure, training is crucial. An emergency situation is not the time to learn how rescue equipment works.
Finally, it is important to review what happened after a fall has occurred. Even the best planning can run into snags, and it is important to evaluate the performance of the on-site team, the location of the rescue equipment in relation to the fall, and the training and comfort level of those who responded. Once changes are made to the rescue plan, all workers need to be notified and trained on any new aspects of the rescue procedures.
Companies spend money to keep workers safe and keep themselves OSHA compliant. However, just having the PPE isn’t enough. Your company can be held liable if OSHA finds your rescue operations have not been adequately prepared. Be a company that sees worker safety all the way through. Prepare a rescue plan for each piece of fall protection equipment on site, and don’t let that plan gather dust on an office shelf. Make sure the people who will be performing a rescue on a fallen co-worker are prepared for the job. Keep your site safe, keep your workers safe, and cover your company’s proverbial behind by implementing your rescue plan before it is too late.