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Rescue at Height

Prompt Rescue Required

The best strategy for protecting workers from falls is to eliminate the hazards that cause them. When you can't eliminate the hazards, you must protect workers with an appropriate fall-protection system or method. If a worker is suspended in a personal fall-arrest system, you must provide for a prompt rescue using one of the following basic methods:

  1. Self-rescue - the preferred method using techniques to relieve pressure on legs.
  2. Assisted-rescue - if self-rescue is not possible, one or more trained rescuers with appropriate equipment perform assisted rescue of the worker.

OSHA is rather vague in defining precisely what "Prompt" means and does not specify a time. It basically means without delay. ANSI Z359 encourages at least verbal contact within six minutes. However, a worker suspended in a harness after a fall can lose consciousness within minutes if the harness puts too much pressure on arteries. The Air force studied how long a physically fit person could hang in a full-body harness without extreme discomfort and found that the average times were between 17 and 28 minutes. However, tolerance varies greatly from person to person, and in fact, suspension trauma can occur in as little as 10 minutes.

If a fall-related emergency could happen at your work site, you should have a plan for responding to it promptly. Workers who use personal fall-arrest systems must know how to promptly rescue themselves after a fall or they must be promptly rescued.

Check out this great resource, Fall Protection: Responding to Emergencies - WISHA, that covers the various techniques of self-rescue and aided rescue after a worker falls using a personal fall-arrest system (PFAS).

Developing an Emergency-Response Plan

The following guidelines will help you develop a plan for responding promptly to falls and other emergencies.

  • Effective plans don't need to be elaborate: Your plan should show that you've thought about how to eliminate and control hazards and that workers know how to respond promptly if something goes wrong.
  • Get others involved in planning: When other workers participate, they'll contribute valuable information, take the plan seriously, and be more likely to respond effectively during an emergency. Key objectives for an effective emergency-response plan include:
    • Identify the emergencies that could affect your site.
    • Establish a chain of command.
    • Establish procedures for responding to the emergencies.
    • Identify critical resources and rescue equipment.
    • Train on-site responders.
  • Identify emergencies that could affect your construction worksite: Identify any event that could threaten worker safety or health. Two examples:
    • worker suspended in a full-body harness after a fall
    • worker on a scaffold who contacts an overhead power line

Developing an Emergency-Response Plan (Continued)

  • Identify critical resources and rescue equipment: Prompt rescue won't happen without trained responders, appropriate medical supplies, and the right equipment for the emergency.
  • First-aid supplies: Every work site needs medical supplies for common injuries. Does your site have a first-aid kit for injuries that are likely to occur? Store the supplies in clearly marked, protective containers and make them available to all shifts.
  • fallrescue
  • Rescue equipment: Identify on-site equipment that responders can use to rescue a suspended worker. Extension ladders and mobile lifts are useful and available at most sites. Determine where and how each type of equipment would be most effective during a rescue. Make sure the equipment will permit rescuers to reach a fall victim, that it's available when rescuers need it, and that rescuers know how to use it. Will your longest ladder reach a suspended worker? If not, what equipment will reach the worker? When equipment is needed for a rescue, will workers know where it is and how to use it? Think about seasonal and environmental conditions and how they may affect rescue equipment and those who use it. Equipment that works for summer rescues may not work for winter rescues.

Developing an Emergency-Response Plan (Continued)

  • Train on-site responders: An effective emergency-response plan ensures that on-site responders know emergency procedures, know how to use available rescue equipment, and - if necessary - know how to contact off-site responders. Workers who use personal fall-arrest systems and who work alone must know how to rescue themselves. Those who work at a remote site may need a higher level of emergency training than those who work near a trauma center or a fire department.
  • Establish a chain of command: All workers must know their roles and responsibilities during an emergency. A chain of command links one person with overall responsibility for managing an emergency to those responsible for carrying out specific emergency-response tasks. Make sure that back-up personnel can take over when primary responders aren't available.
  • Establish procedures for responding to emergencies: Procedures are instructions for accomplishing specific tasks. Emergency procedures are important because they tell workers exactly what to do to ensure their safety during an emergency. Your emergency-response plan should include the following procedures - preferably in writing - that describe what people must know and do to ensure that a fallen worker receives prompt attention:
    • how to report an emergency
    • how to rescue a suspended worker
    • how to provide first aid

    After an emergency, review the procedures; determine if they should be changed to prevent similar events and revise them accordingly.


    Responding to Falls

    Before on-site work begins, you need to:

    • Identify emergencies that could affect your work site.
    • Establish a chain of command.
    • Document procedures for responding to emergencies and make sure they're available at the site.
    • Post emergency-responder phone numbers and addresses at the work site.
    • Identify critical resources and rescue equipment.
    • Train on-site responders.
    • Identify off-site responders and inform them about any conditions at the site that may hinder a rescue effort.
    • Identify emergency entry and exit routes.
    • Make sure responders have quick access to rescue and retrieval equipment, such as lifts and ladders.

    During on-site work, you need to:

    • Identify on-site equipment that can be used for rescue and retrieval, such as extension ladders and mobile lifts.
    • Maintain a current rescue-equipment inventory at the site. Equipment may change frequently as the job progresses.
    • Re-evaluate and update the emergency-response plan when on-site work tasks change.

    When an emergency occurs

    • First responders should clear a path to the victim. Others should direct emergency personnel to the scene. You can use 911 for ambulance and medical service; however, most 911 responders are not trained to rescue a worker suspended in a personal fall-arrest system. Make sure only trained responders attempt a technical rescue.
    • Prohibit all non-essential personnel from the rescue site.
    • Talk to the victim; determine the victim's condition, if possible.
    • If you can reach the victim, check for vital signs, administer CPR, attempt to stop bleeding, and make the victim comfortable.

    After an emergency, you must:

    • Report fatalities and catastrophes to OSHA within eight hours.
    • Report injuries requiring overnight hospitalization and medical treatment (other than first aid) to OSHA within 24 hours.
    • Identify equipment that may have contributed to the emergency and put it out of service. Have a competent person examine equipment. If the equipment is damaged, repair or replace it. If the equipment caused the accident, determine how and why.
    • Document in detail the cause of the emergency.
    • Review emergency procedures. Determine how the procedures could be changed to prevent similar events; revise the procedures accordingly.


    A farm worker suffocated to death after being engulfed in flowing grain while trying to clear a blocked auger. Two workers were emptying a grain bin at a grain elevator owned by a large farm in northeastern Iowa. The auger had stopped moving corn indicating there was a blockage at the auger intake inside the bin.

    Both men entered the bin from the access door at the top of the 50-foot tall bin. They had probes and shovels with them for the clearing work. They had left the auger running and probed the corn with metal bars around the auger opening in the middle of the bin floor. The corn was approximately 10 feet deep at the sides and 6-8 feet deep in the middle of the 36-foot diameter bin.

    The blockage suddenly cleared and the flowing corn immediately began to suck one of the workers down. The other worker was looking the other way and was alerted by his co-worker yelling for help. He tried to assist his co-worker to get out but struggled to save himself from being pulled down as well. He scrambled out of the bin, turned off the auger and summoned for help. The controls for the auger were outside the bin and during the time it took to get out of the flowing corn, climb to the top access door, and down to the ground controls, the victim was engulfed in corn.

    No fall protection devices or lifelines were used and there was no emergency stop system for the auger. The rescue crews arrived and had some difficulty accessing the 50-foot tall bin. There was a side door at the bottom of the bin, but it was still under corn and not used during rescue. The victim was taken to a regional health center but was pronounced dead on arrival.

    Emergency Rescue

    This is a rescue from an 80 meter Siemens Wind Turbine in Kansas.


    Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

    Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

    Good luck!

    1. If a worker is suspended in a personal fall-arrest system, you must provide for a prompt rescue. "Prompt" means _____.

    2. Which of the following is a key planning objective in an effective emergency-response plan?

    3. To ensure a fallen worker receives prompt attention, your emergency-response plan should include all of the following, EXCEPT _____.

    4. All 911 emergency responders are trained to rescue a worker suspended in a personal fall-arrest system.

    5. An effective fallen worker emergency-response strategy primarily relies on _____.

    Have a great day!

    Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.