Fall protection is a particular concern for safety specialists and those working at heights. Harnesses are a common type of personal protective equipment (PPE) used to ensure the safety of individuals should they experience a fall. This method uses a fall protection harness connected to a lanyard which is secured to an anchor point. The lanyard reduces the shock of the fall for the worker and prevents them from hitting the ground.
Although personal protective equipment minimises the risks involved and chance of significant injury, there are dangers of hanging in a harness. In this article we are going to discuss the associated dangers of hanging in a harness and how to ensure you and your workers are equipped with the right skills and knowledge to stay safe while using PPE.
Suspension trauma is also known as harness hang syndrome and orthostatic intolerance and occurs when a worker is suspended in a hanging fall arrest position in a harness. During this period, the harness’s leg straps support the entire bodyweight of the individual. In this position circulation in the legs can be lost as the femoral arteries are crushed from the weight of the individual and position of the harness.
Another hazard to be aware of is what is known as venous pooling. In the hanging position the leg muscles relax, and the veins expand in a process known as vasodilation. As the muscles in the legs are not being used, the veins do not contract. This results in blood gathering in the legs and not being recirculated back to the heart and lungs. This process can result in a 20 percent reduction in circulation.
As a result of the drop in circulation, the heart begins to work harder to keep the brain and vital organs supplied with blood. As this increases an individual may experience nausea, reduced heart rate and blood pressure, and even lose consciousness. Safety and medical professionals identify this stage as the onset of circulatory shock.
Once the individual is brought down from their hanging position, they still may be in danger. The harness hang syndrome results in a build-up of lactic acid in the pooling blood. When the worker is brought down, the acidic blood is suddenly circulated through the body and can place vital organs such as the kidneys, liver and even heart under significant and life-threatening stress.
Trauma straps offer an easy to implement solution that are attached to fall arresting harness. The straps come in pairs, one if fitted with a hook and the other with a loop. When an individual finds themselves in a hanging position, they can unfurl the straps, join them together using the hook and loop and support their body weight by standing up. Being able to stand and use the muscles in the legs reduces the risks of hanging in a harness and the adverse side effects of suspension trauma. Recruiting the leg muscles to brace the individual’s weight and do work results in the blood circulating around the body and stops any venous pooling.
If you do not have access to suspension trauma straps, you can tie a prusik knot onto your rope and use that as a step. If neither of these are an option, an individual should try to move their legs and lean back into a semi-recumbent position to stimulate blood flow. As always in an emergency, it is important to remain calm and control your breathing.
Whilst trauma straps are effective when an individual is conscious and able to use them, if a worker experiences a fall of significant force, they lose consciousness. This would pose a significant danger to the individual as harness hang syndrome can be potentially fatal within 30 minutes.
As the dangers of hanging in a harness are potentially life threatening, safety training and rescue protocols are vital in reducing body suspension risks and saving someone’s life. Before conducting work at any height, it is crucial that a safety check is thoroughly completed to determine the most appropriate PPE and fall arrest systems are in place. Should this require the use of a harness and fall arrest system, all individuals should have an adequate understanding of the dangers of hanging in a harness and Harness Hang Syndrome.
Harnesses should be compliant, comfortable, and not interfere with task completion. Additionally, the length of the lanyard should be appropriately chosen to reduce the stress on the body should a fall occur.
All members should be aware of what to do should an emergency arise. This should include knowing who is responsible for the fall arrest rescue, information on local health authorities and the hazards present after a worker has been brought down.
When an individual is brought down from their hanging position it is recommended they are treated in a horizontal position after rescue. This will help them relax and let the body regulate its circulation. As always, appropriate medical practitioners should be there to monitor the individual and act if any issues arise.
When conducting work at any height, individuals should be aware of body suspension risks and understand what is suspension trauma. Newcastle Safety Servicing offer leading working at heights harness inspection in Newcastle, as well as equipment inspection, and SRL fall protection inspections in Newcastle. Alternatively, our Gladstone branch delivers expert SRL fall protection inspections QLD and working at heights harness inspections for Queenslanders. Should you require any working at height safety equipment or training on the matter, please call the knowledgeable team at Newcastle Safety Servicing on (02) 4960 1372.