Suspension trauma is the main reason why it is imperative to perform a rescue as soon as possible after a fall has been arrested, explains safety solutions provider BBF Safety Group.
The company highlights that when a person is suspended after a fall, the heart continues to pump blood to the body.
Combining the effects of gravity with the pressure the harness leg straps place on the main blood vessels in the groin area, it becomes difficult for the blood to circulate throughout the body. The result of this is a collection of blood in the leg areas.
“Owing to the inability of blood to return to the heart to be oxygenated, there is less oxygenated blood available to circulate to the vital organs, such as the brain, lungs, heart and kidneys.
“When the brain becomes deprived of oxygen the victim will in turn faint. The consequences of this can be incredibly severe and life-threating with the victim having the potential toexperience brain damage, kidney failure or even death,” it says.
Without any movement, suspension trauma can cause a loss of consciousness to the victim in only a few minutes and the resultant knock-on effects occur rapidly thereafter.
For this reason, every individual who is suspended after a fall must be treated as if they are in a life-threatening situation, BBF Safety Group notes.
The process of suspension trauma includes the individual falling and being suspended in their harness, the leg straps cutting off blood circulation in the body, the blood pooling in legs and the blood becoming acidic owing to lack of oxygen making it toxic to the body.
The body experiences shock and the heart rate increases. The body experiences cardiac instability and diminished blood flow to the brain, which leads to fainting, cardiac arrest, brain damage and possibly death, it states.
Owing to suspension trauma occurring over a period of time, the more time available to perform the rescue, the better the chances the victim has of making a full recovery.
As a result, it is imperative for individuals who work at heights to be mindful of factors such as dehydration, hypothermia or hyperthermia, fatigue, respiratory or cardiovascular disease, loss of consciousness owed to a head injury experienced in a fall, pain, shock, blood loss in the event of an injury, and an inability to move legs that can increase the rate at which suspension trauma kicks in, BBF Safety Group explains.
It emphasises how such factors contribute to the speed of the onset of suspension trauma, making it vital that the rescue team’s first responder or the supervisor maintain communication with the victim and assess the physical and psychological state of the victim.
“A person who is experiencing the majority of the symptoms will have minutes before experiencing severe suspension trauma, whereas a person who is well hydrated and energised and able to move their legs freely after a fall may be able to hang suspended a long time before feeling the effects of suspension trauma,” it says.
It is important to note that suspension trauma can be prevented with the right knowledge and training.
The company mentions that the first step to preventing suspension trauma is to prevent a fall from actually occurring. This can be achieved by doing proper planning, assessing the various risk factors, using the correct working at heights equipment and ensuring that all individuals who are working at a height have completed competency training.
In the event that a fall occurs, it is encouraged that the victim climbs back onto the structure that they have fallen from, if possible, instead of waiting to be rescued. Having proper briefing before work commences on site, individuals will be better prepared to consider this as an option should they experience a fall, when the adrenaline is pumping.
“To allow a suspended body to move, it is recommended that individuals working at a height make use of harnesses that are fitted with a standing step. This will enable the fallen victim to move their legs – one at a time, releasing pressure of the harness on the groin area, and better enabling oxygenated blood to flow throughout the body whilst awaiting rescue,” it says.
In addition, in the event that an individual’s harness is not fitted with a standing step, however, it does allow for work positioning, such that a victim can use their work positioning lanyard to form a loop that acts in the same manner as a standing step.
Alternatively, a make-shift standing step can be created with the use of an open round sling that is connected to a victims harness with the use of a carabineer.
Further, timing is crucial in the prevention of suspension trauma. As a result, it is critical to have a suitable and efficient rescue plan in place in the event of a fall. It is also recommended that rescue kits are kept in easy reach to prevent unnecessary delays and the rescuer is trained periodically in the correct rescue procedures.
This is important as, after a fall, panic sets in and individuals experience an adrenaline rush. The better skilled and more rehearsed a rescuer is at performing a rescue, the more efficient the rescue will be, the company notes.
BBF Safety Group highlights that the effects of suspension trauma are not necessarily over when an individual has been rescued. Owing to the potential toxicity in the blood, the individual will be required to remain in a seated position for a period of time after the rescue.
As a result, it is imperative that proper medical surveillance is implemented post the rescue.
Individuals should never work at heights alone or without the presence of a competent individual who is trained in performing rescue.
Ensuring your staff are well trained in their respective working at height environments and make use of the correct equipment for their requirements, as well as equipping them with best practice in accordance with local legislation, goes a long way in ensuring their safety, the company concludes.