Harnesses Can Kill You? Part 2

October 10, 2003

Will Your Safety Harness Kill You?

By: Bill Weems and Phil Bishop


Suspension Trauma
A worker hanging suspended in a harness risks death by suspension trauma. Unconsciousness and eventual death can result if the victim’s brain is not receiving enough bloodflow because of pooling in the suspended worker’s legs.

Recommendations
Safety harnesses save many lives and injuries. However, continual vigilance is needed to train and supervise workers to ensure harnesses are used safely. All phases of fall protection need to be examined for each particular application. Workers and emergency response personnel must be trained to recognize the risks of suspension trauma.

Before the potential fall:

  1. Workers should never be permitted to work alone in a harness.


  2. Rope/cable tenders must make certain the harness user is conscious at all times.


  3. Time in suspension should be limited to under five minutes. Longer suspensions must have foothold straps or means for putting weight on the legs.


  4. Harnesses should be selected for specific applications and must consider: compliance (convenience), potential arrest injury, and suspension trauma.


  5. Tie-off lanyards should be anchored as high and tight as work permits.


After a fall:
  1. Workers should be trained to try to move their legs in the harness and try to push against any footholds.


  2. Workers hanging in a harness should be trained to try to get their legs as high as possible and their heads as close to horizontal as possible (this is nearly impossible with many commercial harnesses in use today).


  3. It the worker is suspended upright, emergency measures must be taken to remove the worker from suspension or move the fallen worker into a horizontal posture, or at least to a sitting position.


  4. All personnel should be trained that suspension in an upright condition for longer than five minutes can be fatal.


For harness rescues:
  1. The victim should not be suspended in a vertical (upright) posture with the legs dangling straight. Victims should be kept as nearly horizontal as possible, or at least in a sitting position.


  2. Rescuers should be trained that victims who are suspended vertically before rescue are in a potentially fatal situation.


  3. Rescuers must be aware that post-rescue death may occur if victims are moved to a horizontal position too rapidly.


Recommendations on harnesses:
  1. It may be advantageous in some circumstances to locate the lanyard or tie-off attachment of the harness as near to the body's center of gravity as possible to reduce the whiplash and other trauma when a fall is arrested. This also facilitates moving legs upward and head downward while suspended.


  2. Front (stomach or chest) rather than rear (back) harness lanyard attachment points will aid uninjured workers in self-rescue. This is crucial if workers are not closely supervised.


  3. Any time a worker must spend time hanging in a harness, a harness with a seat rather than straps alone should be used to help position the upper legs horizontally.


  4. A gradual arrest device should be employed to lessen deceleration injuries.


  5. Workers should get supervised (because this is dangerous) experience at hanging in the harness they will be using.



Reprinted with permission from the March 2003 issue of Occupational Health & Safety, (c) Stevens Publishing Corporation.

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