Beware, This Life-Saving Device Can Be Life-Threatening

If your occupation has you working at heights, you might find comfort in knowing that your fall arrest system will prevent you from falling to your death. However, did you know that the danger continues even after the fall harness arrested your fall? That same device that just saved your life can be deadly if you remain suspended even for a few minutes.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health has strict standards with which your employer must comply. Your employer’s responsibilities include adequate safety training to teach workers not only about the proper use of a fall harness, but also the need for a quick rescue to prevent suspension trauma.

What is suspension trauma?

Other names for this condition include harness suspension syndrome and orthostatic intolerance. After arresting your fall, the harness could restrict blood circulation. This allows blood to accumulate in the legs, and when blood does not get to your heart, it also starves your brain. Thus, the failure of rescuers to bring you to safety and out of the harness quickly can cause your death within minutes.

Contributing factors

Various factors will determine how suspension affects different people. The following factors will play a role in how soon your safety becomes threatened after the arrest of the fall:

  • Weather-related heat illness or hypothermia
  • Compromised health, such as respiratory disorder or cardiovascular disease
  • Fall injuries, including unconsciousness
  • Blood loss
  • Inability to move your legs while suspended
  • Shock

Each incident is unique, and therefore, the time before trauma sets in can vary.

Suspension Trauma Symptoms

Along with learning about the risks you face while suspended, all workers must learn to recognize the following symptoms of imminent suspension trauma:

  • Breathlessness
  • Dizziness
  • Paleness
  • Faintness
  • Hot flashes
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Loss or fading of vision
  • Low blood pressure
  • Increase or decrease in heart rate

Knowing the symptoms of a suspended worker nearing suspension trauma syndrome is crucial for all members of a work crew.

Mandated safety standards

Safety authorities expect your employer to inform you of the hazards you face while suspended in a fall arrest harness, and provide safety training that will enable workers to:

  • Know that suspension can lead to death
  • Know the symptoms and signs of suspension trauma
  • Know the factors that increase the risk
  • Know how to get the suspended employee to safety quickly

Your workers’ compensation rights

Even if rescuers were quick enough to bring you to safety and out of the fall arrest harness, you could have subsequent health problems. Fortunately, help is available to assist with financial consequences. You will likely be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. While you focus on recovering and returning to work, an attorney with extensive experience in helping California workers to get compensation for medical expenses, lost wages and other applicable benefits can provide valuable support and guidance.