Construction workers performing their jobs at significant heights face risks on a daily basis. Continued improvements in safety equipment have helped protect them from potentially deadly falls.
However, those same devices have serious and potentially deadly side effects.
A worker wearing a fall-arrest system that prevents them from hitting the ground may still suffer injuries. Orthostatic intolerance, commonly known as suspension trauma, is often the result of these high-risks slip-and-falls.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines suspension trauma as "the development of symptoms such as light-headedness, poor concentration, palpitations, tremulousness, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, headache, sweating, weakness and occasionally fainting during upright standing."
As a worker remains suspended and dangles before rescue workers arrive, their continuous immobility creates “venous pooling” where blood collects in their immobile legs. Circulation is reduced and can lead to unconsciousness and death.
According to OSHA, the body reacts to pooling by speeding up the heart rate to maintain sufficient blood flow to the brain. A significantly reduced blood supply will prevent that from happening. As the heart rate abruptly slows down, blood pressure diminishes in the arteries.
More severe cases result in an accident victim fainting or experiencing potentially fatal kidney failure.
Workers who fall while wearing fall-arrest systems should remember two words: move fast. According to OSHA, speed is vital after the fall. They only have 30 minutes before unconsciousness or death.
OSHA also recommends:
- Confirm that protective equipment is properly worn and fitted
- Identify signs and symptoms of suspension trauma and how accidents can occur
- Employ appropriate and effective rescue procedures and methods to reduce risk while suspended
Many work-related accidents are unavoidable. While options exist to prevent injuries, injured employees can also explore possible workers’ compensation benefits.