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The Guardian Fall Team Blog

Let me first start by saying that I am not a doctor, nor have I ever played one on TV. However, that does not mean that I cannot have an understanding of the possibility and severity of orthostatic intolerance. Some other more associated, commonplace terms are “harness induced pathology” or “suspension trauma”.

In fall protection, we must all plan for the worst case scenario. If anyone experiences a fall arrest scenario and they are not presently on a movie set of some sort, it is NEVER a ‘good’ case scenario.

Let’s assume that you are the master at planning and preparing, you have a bullet proof fall protection plan and rescue plan set in place. You have been diligent in communicating, training, and documenting your plans and life is all good. Then along comes Joe Worker who finds the one in a million ways to squeak through your defenses and experiences a fall.

Your rescue plan kicks in – people are moving, someone is off to call 911 and meet the emergency responders to direct them to where Joe Worker is located. Your authorized rescuer takes the scene, grabs the rescue kit and begins assisted rescue. Now, in a controlled environment, an assisted rescue can easily be completed within four to five minutes, but your job site is not a controlled environment.

In reality, the amount of time it takes to rescue someone can be dramatically affected by a number of factors. These factors can sometimes include: the initial shock of someone actually having fallen, unforeseen job site impediments, and the adrenaline rush that would onset given the particular situation. It’s during this prolonged period of time that suspension trauma becomes a critical concern.

From the time that Joe Worker fell to the time he has been lowered to safety, fifteen minutes has elapsed. Not enough time for suspension trauma to be an issue…right? Well be sure to first ask yourself these three simple questions:

  • Does the victim show any of the signs of orthostatic intolerance (i.e., ‘Suspension trauma')?
  • Are they a healthy person with good blood pressure?
  • Are they in shock or injured?

Suspension trauma is a serious cause for concern which has in some instances killed victims of falls who would have otherwise survived their arrest with minor injuries. Whoever is the rescuer, the responding authorities and especially the person receiving the victim on the ground need to be aware of the seriousness and signs of orthostatic intolerance.

This link to OSHA can provide you with some excellent information that would be very useful in your next company training meeting and I highly recommend making the topic a regular part of your rescue plan communication. Remember that there are many tools available to purchase that can help the suspended worker relieve the pressure on the legs or to provide for them to rescue themselves.