Helping industries ensure worker and workplace safety is a continuous pursuit for Grainger. One area of concern is helping to prevent suspension trauma after a fall. Safety managers often believe their job is complete if they can keep their employees from an impact injury during a fall event at work. Unfortunately, post-fall suspension trauma and timely rescue are often ignored when employers are building a fall protection plan. While waiting for rescue after a fall-related event, suspension trauma is a real threat.
What is Suspension Trauma?
Suspension trauma can be caused by any situation where a worker is forced to stay upright without the ability to use his legs or move. The use of a personal fall arrest system during a fall event can be the cause of this situation. Even under the most ideal circumstances when a rescue plan is in place, suspension trauma should always be treated as an emergency situation because it can become fatal in less than 30 minutes.
During a fall event, several things occur that can lead to suspension trauma. Because the worker is suspended in an upright posture with legs hanging, blood begins to pool in the legs. The safety harness straps can exert pressure on leg veins, compressing them and reducing blood flow back to the heart. If circulation is impeded enough, the heart rate will likely abruptly slow, reducing oxygen to the brain.
Under normal circumstances, fainting and collapsing to the ground would occur, positioning the head, heart and legs at the same level, thus returning blood flow and oxygen to vital organs. Unfortunately, during a fall event, the harness keeps the worker upright. The worker faints but cannot collapse and circulation isn’t restored.
Steps to Reduce the Potential for Suspension Trauma
One of the ways to slow the progression of suspension trauma is to stand up. Under normal circumstances, when a worker is standing, the leg muscles must contract to provide support and maintain balance, which puts pressure on the veins. This pressure, along with a series of one-way valves in the veins, helps blood get to the heart and reduces the amount of blood pooling in the legs.
How Do You Stand While Hanging in a Harness?
A worker can stand in a harness by employing suspension trauma relief straps. These typically come packaged in two pouches that attach to each side of a harness.
During a fall event, the worker can deploy the trauma relief straps, creating a loop that the worker can put his feet into and press against to simulate standing up. This allows the leg muscles to contract and can relieve pressure from the leg straps to help improve circulation.
For more information on fall protection equipment and the associated standards, check out these Grainger Quick Tips Technical Resources online at Grainger.com®:
• #130 Fall Protection Equipment
• #131 Construction Fall Protection, Subpart M
• #347 ANSI Z359: A New Lift to Fall Protection Standards
W.W. Grainger, Inc.
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Lake Forest, IL 60045