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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 to prevent injury from suspension trauma 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.

Prompt rescue of a worker suspended by a fall arrest system is not defined by OSHA in 1926.502. However, OSHA does state that, in this case, the word "prompt" requires that the rescue be performed quickly -- in time to prevent serious injury to the worker. (OSHA Letter of Interpretation 2003-12-18)

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. For more information on suspension trauma visit XSPlatforms.

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).

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

a. within 15 minutes
b. as soon as possible
c. in time to prevent serious injury
d. when emergency services arrive

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Developing a Rescue Plan

Click to enlarge.

The following guidelines will help you develop a rescue plan for responding promptly to emergencies at height. As we mentioned earlier, responding promptly means to rescue the worker before serious injury while suspended can occur.

  • Effective rescue plans don't have to be elaborate: Your plan should show that you've thought about how to eliminate and control fall hazards and how to respond promptly if something goes wrong.
  • Get others involved in planning: When workers who use fall protection equipment, especially competent persons, participate in developing the rescue plan, they'll contribute valuable information, take the plan seriously, and be more likely to respond effectively during an emergency.
  • Develop the Plan: To develop an effective rescue plan, complete the following sequence of actions:
    1. identify the types of falls that could occur at your site;
    2. establish a communications plan and chain of command;
    3. establish procedures for immediately responding to falls and other accidents;
    4. identify critical resources and rescue equipment; and
    5. train on-site responders; and
    6. regularly practice rescue methods.

2. What is the first step in developing an effective rescue plan for workers who fall while using a fall-arrest system?

a. Establish a communications plan and chain of command
b. Identify critical resources and rescue equipment
c. Identify the types of falls that could occur at your site
d. Train on-site responders

Next Section

Developing a Rescue 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.
  • 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.
    • 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.
    The most important question to ask about the rescue equipment is if it will permit rescuers to reach a fall victim. If it can't reach the victim, it's useless. It's also important to make sure it's available when rescuers need it and that rescuers know how to use it. Questions to ask include:
    • 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?

3. What is the most important question to ask about the rescue equipment when responding to a fall?

a. Can it reach the fall victim?
b. Do the employees know how to use it?
c. Is the equipment available?
d. Is the equipment needed for the rescue?

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Developing a Rescue 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 receive a higher level of training and so that they know how to rescue themselves.
  • 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
  • Review the Plan: After an emergency, review the procedures to determine if they should be changed to prevent similar events and revise them accordingly.

4. What must a lone worker using a fall-arrest system know how to do?

a. Keep themselves mentally stimulated so they don't fall asleep on the job
b. Rescue themselves
c. Contact off-site emergency responders
d. Inspect and maintain their harness

Next Section


Responding to Falls

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.

Click on the link to see a sample template for a written rescue and retrieval plan.

5. Which course of action should be taken when a rescue at height emergency occurs?

a. Contact OSHA for direction
b. Don't upset the victim by initiating discussion
c. First responders should clear a path to the victim
d. Don't worry about documenting the accident workers are too stressed

Check your Work

Read the material in each section to find the correct answer to each quiz question. After answering all the questions, click on the "Check Quiz Answers" button to grade your quiz and see your score. You will receive a message if you forgot to answer one of the questions. After clicking the button, the questions you missed will be listed below. You can correct any missed questions and check your answers again.


Emergency Rescue

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

This video is a real-life High Angle Rescue by the New York Fire Department. Two washers were hanging from their safety harnesses.

Final Exam