“Time is brain,” he continued. The faster an unconscious person can be treated by experts, the better chance they have of full recovery.
He discouraged employers from putting a time limit on how long a worker can safely use the trauma straps on their harness while suspended. While the straps can buy time for workers, assuming they’ve been trained how to use them correctly, he said that “hanging from a harness is a dire medical emergency. It really doesn’t matter if it’s two minutes or two hours.”
What to do after a fall
Riddleberger said that any time employers have crews working in harnesses, they should have the ability to lower workers if they fall. If a worker does fall, employers should lower the worker as safely as possible; if that’s out of the question, try to raise them up to the level they were or provide a standing surface beneath them.
If workers have enough slack, they should try to move their legs, but Riddleberger warned they shouldn’t do anything to increase fatigue or raise their heart rates. Old advice to pedal their legs like they’re riding a bicycle is outdated, he said.
What not to do
If employers are able to lower workers, Riddleberger stressed that they shouldn’t allow any slack in the harness once they reach the ground or a level surface.
“Before they get on the solid surface completely, you need to make sure the thigh straps are tight,” he said. Essentially, he explained, you’re applying a tourniquet to prevent toxins that have built up in the blood from traveling through the body.
For the same reason, Riddleberger warned not to let workers sit up, but they also shouldn’t be fully reclined. Once a worker reaches the ground, lean them back into a 45-degree position.
“That way, the heart is not working so hard as when [the worker is] standing upright, and then if we lay them down … we don’t have a rush of the blood just automatically trying to come right back to the heart, into the lungs and the brain.”
Training and educating workers
While Riddleberger stressed that time is of the essence after a fall, Michael Kassman, a training specialist at CPWR, noted that training workers before a fall is critical.
“Even though you’ve got some of these solutions, the objective is preventing you from falling in the first place,” he said of fall arrest systems. He added that having someone on staff who is competent and qualified in fall prevention is invaluable. Fall arrest systems need to be inspected before every use, and if they’re ever deployed, they must immediately be removed from service, he explained.
Worker training should be ongoing, Kassman added. He noted there are over 90,000 components of fall prevention equipment on the market. If new systems come out, if previous training is made obsolete or if a worker actually falls, even if it’s just a close call, they need new training, he said.