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The Guardian Fall Team Blog

Much is made of creating an effective fall protection plan, one that addresses both potential fall hazards and what methods will be used to mitigate those hazards. If you have been involved in making one, excellent, you are well on your way to a safe jobsite. But if you stopped there, you left your work half finished.

The Key To An effective fall protection plan is an effective post-fall rescue plan

Stopping a fall is great, but leaving a worker suspended from their harness only to suffer lethal suspension trauma while you scramble to try to figure out which way is up is no way to respond to a fall. And in fact, neither is having a generic rescue plan that does not take into account all of the jobsite-specific challenges a rescuer might encounter.

For example, let’s say workers are building a 100’ bridge whose mid-span at its apex rises twenty feet into the air. A worker falls, hits his head, and now hangs from his harness, unconscious. What method of retrieval would you use?

Had the worker not hit his head, you may have been able to use a rescue ladder and drop it to the victim, allowing him to self-rescue and climb back up to safety. But with an unconscious worker, things change drastically. Maybe you could employ a block-and-tackle style system such as the Gotcha Kit and perform an assisted rescue by attaching it to the stricken worker and lowering him safely to the ground.

Gotcha Kit Rescue - In-Action

But what if I forgot to mention the bridge wasn’t being constructed over a roadway or other hard surface, and instead over a fast-moving river? What then?

Or what if a fall occurs at extreme heights, for example from one of the giant wind turbines popping up all over the landscape nowadays? Or over moving machinery? Or into a pickle vat? Really, it happens!

How do these site-specific challenges change your rescue method?

What Can You Do?

The point here is that a rescue plan must be both jobsite specific and comprehensive in order to be effective. There is no such thing as a generic rescue plan that will cover all potential obstacles a rescuer might face. The very reason a fall occurred is because something went wrong, and hoping that when things go wrong they go wrong in a predictable way is not very good planning. For example, what if a worker was directed to work in Fall Restraint, but used his gear incorrectly so that he was instead working in Fall Arrest? A rescue plan should be created in a methodical way in order to account for all potential situations, and to avoid making assumptions regarding what may or may not happen during a fall and subsequent rescue.

Where to Start?

First, it’s imperative that a rescue occur promptly – this should be a primary concern when thinking about a rescue plan. OSHA 1926.502 specifically states, “The employer shall provide for prompt rescue on employees in the event of a fall, or shall assure that employees are able to rescue themselves.”

But what is 'prompt'? Given what we knows about suspension trauma, the maximum time a person should be left in suspension is less than 15 minutes. But there are just too many factors, including a worker’s overall health, to categorically state a specific rescue timeframe. The answer to the question “What is prompt?” should always be “Now!

With that in mind, we’ve created a basic outline to get you started making your own rescue plan (see below). Remember, this outline is to get you started, to get your creative, out-of-the-box juices flowing when it comes to rescue. It is not a comprehensive list that you can check off as you go and consider yourself finished. After all, we don’t know what your jobsite looks like, YOU DO!

As you read through the list, expand each section by continually asking “What if?” questions. What if when a worker falls, they cause another worker to fall? What if the primary rescuer is not available? What if the fallen worker complains of dizziness after they are rescued? Building a rescue plan by being curious is a great way to cover a lot of territory. That doesn’t necessarily mean the rescue plan has to be some monstrosity of course, just that it needs to view a rescue from as many practical angles as possible – to be comprehensive. The last thing you want is to have to suddenly revamp your rescue plan because of a lack of imagination on the front end.

Fall Protection Rescue Plan Outline

1. Names of Authorized Rescuers

• Each should be identified and others on the jobsite made aware of their status as Authorized Rescuers

• Competent Person should be identified

2. Communication

• What method of communication will be employed in case of a fall?

• Phone numbers/radio channels/code words/sirens

3. Emergency Contacts

• Location of First-Aid kit

• Onsite First-Aid trained employee

• Local fire/rescue services

• Nearest medical facility

4. Method Of Retrieval

• How will rescuers reach fallen worker?

• Location/type of rescue equipment needed/available (ladders/hoist/aerial lift, etc.)

• Will it be a self- or assisted rescue?

• Will off-site assistance be required?

5. Potential hazards

• Electrical/heat/cold dangers present?

• Potential for toxic fumes or corrosive agents?

• Confined spaces?

• Public space/crowd control?

6. Post Fall

• Will the victim need follow-up medical care?

• Who will monitor victim to ensure healthful status?

• Initiate post-fall investigation

• Collect and segregate equipment used subjected to fall

One Final Thing...

Once you have created and implemented a rescue plan, remember that, as a Competent Person, you are instructed to continually review fall protection procedures as work progresses and to update those procedures if changes on the jobsite require it. The same goes for your rescue plan. When something changes on the jobsite, take a moment to consider how (if at all) the change will affect not only your fall protection plan, but also your rescue plan. Did a replacement crew show up instead of the previous day’s crew? Do you need to take a few minutes to brief them on the rescue plan? It’s your job to be on the lookout for changes, and to adapt to those changes when necessary.