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Rescue plans critical to preventing falls from heights injuries, fatalities

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by Angela Gismondi

In the event of a fall when working at heights, one of the most important things is to have a rescue plan in place.
Rescue plans critical to preventing falls from heights injuries, fatalities

That was the message from Scott Patrick, regional sales manager at Honeywell Industrial Safety, during his presentation at the recent Partners in Prevention conference, which was presented by Workplace Safety and Prevention Services in Mississauga, Ont.

"I don't care what you deem as your rescue plan but please develop one, have one and practise it," he explained. "Unless you practise it, when you have a fall arrest issue, when you're trying to rescue a fallen worker that is a friend of yours, panic sets in."

He added, "In Canada, specifically Ontario, it is mandated that your fall arrest program is a written program."

Falls can happen at any time, he said.

"Slips, trips and falls all depend on work site cleanliness but the same things that cause slips and trips at grade, cause slips and trips and falls at heights," said Patrick.

There are a number of factors that can impact a worker, especially those who wear fall arrest gear for long periods of time.

"It should be slightly uncomfortable if worn properly, but here's the problem with a fall arrest harness: no matter what you do throughout the day, turning, climbing a ladder, bending over, reaching, it's a constant downward pull across your shoulders which creates fatigue," explained Patrick. "That fatigue can create a slip and fall. Sometimes a little more money in your fall arrest can prevent a fall, can improve productivity and can do a lot of things, but nobody wants to spend money."

He added that wearing equipment properly is crucial and if leg straps are loosened while on the ground, they need to be tightened before the worker continues to work at heights.

A personal fall arrest system has three components, or ABC — anchor, body support and connecting device. It's also important to be aware of your surroundings when you are working at heights and to know your fall clearance based on the equipment you are using and how to calculate it.

"Be very aware every time you are working around an open edge because things change around you," said Patrick, adding obstacles can take away from your fall clearance. "If you are working anywhere near an open edge you better know what your fall clearance is."

The first step in any rescue plan is to call 911.

Other things that can be used as part of a rescue plan include an aerial work platform, scissor lifts, baskets and rolling ladders. For those without accessories or equipment available, a rescue kit is recommended.

If somebody falls in a harness you have approximately 15 to 20 minutes on average to get them down before suspension trauma, also known as orthostatic intolerance, starts to set in.

"The longer you hang there, no matter who you are...you are going to start to feel the effects," Patrick said. "When you are hanging there, what happens is you start to pool toxic blood in your lower extremities. First your feet get tingly, then they go to sleep and then your lower legs and your thighs. All of the sudden you're dead from the waist down, long enough and you will pass out from the lack of blood, it's going down but it's not coming back. Your brain kicks in and says 'hey, you need to make new blood we don't have enough,' so your body starts producing new blood."

Patrick shared an important life-saving tip to attendees.

"Years ago, what would happen is that worker was hanging for 20 to 30 minutes — he's numb, he's awake, they put him on a stretcher, they cut the harness off and he's dead inside of two minutes," said Patrick. "A massive amount of blood hits the heart all at once and your heart explodes."

He suggested before putting the worker in an ambulance, he or she needs 15 minutes in a crouched position and 15 minutes in a chair to allow a little bit of blood to trickle back to the heart at a time.

"When you get the worker down, you never cut the harness off (right away)," he said, adding workers should stop EMS if they try to do it because they might kill the worker. "This could save somebody's life."

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