Did you know there is a dangerous—even deadly—effect of fall arrest called suspension trauma?
The dangers of falling from height are often talked about, with saving workers’ lives as the end goal, but suspension trauma is oftentimes overlooked in the fall protection conversation. However, suspension trauma is a very real and potentially dangerous threat that needs to be factored in to any company’s fall protection strategies.
Suspension Trauma Defined
Suspension trauma, also called harness hang syndrome or orthostatic intolerance, is a condition that occurs after a worker is involved in a fall. The worker’s fall arrest system, consisting of a harness and a lanyard, holds the worker suspended until the worker is rescued. The harness essentially puts pressure on the worker’s legs at the femoral arteries, which cuts off blood circulation.
This causes blood to pool in the legs, making it difficult for blood to circulate around the body. The heart must work harder to pump blood, nausea, unconsciousness, and a drop in blood pressure and heart rate result.
Additionally, cells in the body’s extremities switch to anaerobic respiration because they are not receiving enough oxygen-rich blood from the lungs. This process called lactic acidosis, leads to the buildup of lactic acid in the worker’s body. When the worker is rescued and normal blood flow resumes, the body’s organs can be overloaded by the high amounts of lactic acid. Organ failure, including heart failure, can result.
Mitigating Suspension Trauma
Suspension trauma can be dealt with in a simple way: suspension straps. This is a pair of straps that are stored in a bag attached to the harness so the worker can access them in the event of a fall. While suspended and waiting for rescue, the worker would take out the straps, attach them to the harness and stand up using the straps while suspended, which stops blood from pooling in the legs. Unfortunately, some workers will remove the bag of suspension straps from their harness or they have a harness that didn’t come with suspension straps in the first place.
Another issue is that some workers may lose consciousness during a fall and they would be unable to attach and use their suspension straps. Because of this, a company’s fall rescue plan must be able to be executed in a “prompt” manner. OSHA maintains that suspension trauma can be fatal within 30 minutes, meaning a fall rescue plan must be executed as quickly as possible.
Safe Keeper’s Suspension Straps
Safe Keeper carries a Suspension Trauma Relief Pack complete with adjustable straps and a carrying pouch. This suspension strap pack can be attached to any harness so a worker is prepared in the event of a fall. Safe Keeper/ Safe Climber also carries a wide range of fall protection products and other accessories, confined space entry gear, and ladder systems!