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Advice for first-aiders who respond to harness suspension incidents

The HSE (Health & Safety Executive) has clarified guidance on the first aid that should be given to a person who falls whilst wearing a suspension harness. The key recommendation is that the person should be rescued as soon as possible, when it is safe to do so (it is important that you have a Rescue Plan in place before any incident occurs). One of the less obvious reasons why the person needs rescuing as soon as it is safe to do so is because they may begin to experience signs of Harness Suspension Trauma (HST). This can lead to unconsciousness within minutes of the ‘fall arrest’, which then makes rescue even more difficult.

Fall arrest systems are designed to protect lives, however, there needs to be a rescue plan in place to ensure that the person is not left in suspension for an extended duration.

Let’s say that a worker accidentally trips and falls off the edge of the roof. The fall arrest system activates. The fall is ‘arrested’ and the shock on the worker’s body is limited, due to the fall arrest device.

The person is now left suspended at height in their harness and, depending on how far they descended before the system ‘arrested’ their fall, they may still have suffered some form of trauma or may have been knocked unconscious. Of course, dangling in a harness is preferable to falling several stories, although what happens in the following few minutes is crucial to mitigating the consequences.

The sudden tightening of the harness will have resulted in the straps around the person’s chest, groin and shoulders tightening to such as extent that it disrupts circulation of blood. This impedes flow of blood to the brain and the vital organs in the torso, with the result being rapid loss of consciousness or worse.

This is known as Harness Suspension Trauma (HST) and there are tell-tale signals that a person may be in greater danger than what will already appear to them as a very serious situation. Symptoms of HST include light headedness; nausea; sensations of flushing; tingling or numbness of the arms or legs; anxiety; visual disturbance; or a feeling they are about to faint. These symptoms often become noticeable within minutes of the fall arrest occurring.

The best way of avoiding the equally dangerous consequences of HST is by using one of Heightsafe Systems’ fall arrest harnesses because it incorporates a relief strap. This simple but essential device can prevent permanent, long-term injuries when working with a fall arrest incident. By activating the relief strap, the person can avoid HST, which can lead rapidly to unconsciousness, whilst improving their comfort, all of which results in better and quicker rescue outcomes.

What follows next is just as important. If you are responsible for work at height activities, it is important that you have a Rescue Plan in place for a fall arrest incident. This should set out in a clear and concise manner how workers should be rescued.

We will discuss what the Rescue Plan should incorporate in our next blog.

For more information on fall arrest systems from Heightsafe Systems, call: 020 3819 7199

14th December 2016 10:36 am

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