Rescue Operations for Working at Height – Part One
Last week we ran an article on suspension trauma (aka orthostatic intolerance or harness hang syndrome) - what it is and why it presents such a danger when a worker has had a fall arrested by a fall arrest system. Swift rescue is essential to prevent permanent damage or even death when a worker is suspended in this way because the fall protection harness cuts off the blood supply to the legs. This circulatory loss causes the heart work harder to ensure blood flow to the brain and vital organs and results in nausea, unconsciousness and a drop in both blood pressure and heart rate – circulatory shock. The lungs can no longer deliver oxygen to the trapped legs and the cells being to undergo anaerobic respiration, during which glucose (blood sugar) breaks down into lactic acid in a process known as lactic acidosis. The lactic acid develops in the stagnant blood in the legs so that when the worker has been rescued, the sudden restoration of circulation floods the body with high levels of acid, overwhelming both the liver and kidneys, often resulting in heart failure. It’s often the case that dialysis is needed to protect the kidneys after incidents of this type so if suspension trauma is a possibility, it’s essential that any medical personnel in attendance be made aware of this fact.
Because suspension trauma can be fatal in as little as 30 minutes, speed really is of the essence during such incidents so today we’re going to take a look at some of the rescue guidelines. It appears that an emergency planning element is often not considered when work at height is being planned and employers may wish to take into account the following:
- There is a general lack of awareness of suspension trauma and its serious consequences.
- Employers often fail to appreciate where and when rescue provision is necessary.
- Employers often fail to provide sufficient appropriate rescue equipment because they are unaware of the type of equipment that is suitable for use in a rescue.
- Rescue operations are carried out under extreme pressure so consideration needs to be given to all aspects of the rescue process.
There are some very important reasons that employers need to ensure that rescue arrangements are in place when work at height is being carried out:
- The Work at Height Regulations require that employers make specific provision for emergency planning. Any plan of work should include planning for emergency and rescue operations.
- The worker needs to be recovered and attended to as quickly as possible – time really is of the essence as suspension trauma can be fatal within 30 minutes.
- It is your responsibility as an employer under your Duty of Care to your workers.
It’s vital that there is a specific rescue plan and adequate resources in place for each worksite where work at height is carried out. These rescue plans should be assessed on a regular basis and updated where necessary. Resources should include not only the rescue equipment necessary but personnel who have been trained in using that equipment.
Next week we’ll be taking a closer look at rescue plans so don’t forget to come and take a look. You could bookmark our website or Like our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter so you know exactly when the article is published.