Rescue Training: Making Timely Rescue a Reality

June 1, 2008
Don't be afraid of the "R" word when developing your fall protection plan.

While fall protection compliance rates are climbing, some companies are discovering that they lack expertise in fall rescue equipment and procedures – a discovery they often make only after a fall has occurred.

Rescue, as the last component of a fall protection plan, is a good problem to have. It means the worker was wearing his harness and attached to an anchor, thus making the fall protection plan a success. But many people balk at the topic of fall rescue because they find it difficult or confusing.

For the workers across multiple industries who rely on fall protection equipment while working at height, sometimes hundreds of feet above the ground, proper rescue training is imperative. All employees – whether they are construction workers, tower climbers, utilities professionals, oilrig workers or even vehicle inspectors – must be trained to use any equipment they regularly encounter on the job. Fall protection equipment and rescue training are no different.

This primer on post-fall rescue training will cover the need for comprehensive rescue training, what the regulations say and who within the fall protection program should be rescue trained and to what extent.

Why Timely Rescue is Important

Timely rescue is important for one simple reason: without it, workers are at the risk of injury. Injuries can occur at a number of points during the progression of a fall, and may have even contributed to the fall in the first place. Perhaps the worker tripped, was struck by a falling object or suffered a heart attack or stroke. Injury also can occur during a fall. The worker may strike part of the structure as he falls, especially if a swing-fall hazard is present.

Finally, a worker who has fallen may suffer from suspension trauma while hanging in a harness. Suspension trauma, also known as harness-induced pathology, occurs when the leg straps of a harness constrict the veins, causing blood to pool in the legs. This condition is caused by lack of motion in the lower portion of the body. The muscles are not contracting on the veins and therefore cannot help circulate blood back to the heart.

When this happens, the heart, and subsequently the brain, does not get enough blood necessary to function properly. This results in a natural reaction: fainting. If the person were standing upright, the fainting would bring the pooled blood in the legs to the same level as the heart. When a person loses consciousness while suspended, however, the harness will keep him or her in a vertical position, holding the blood in the lower extremities. Suspended workers with head injuries or who are unconscious are at a higher risk for suspension trauma.

Suspension trauma does not always result in long-term injuries. In fact, there have been documented cases of workers who have been suspended for over an hour and, when rescued, were in good health. But the very real possibility of suspension trauma necessitates getting fallen workers to the ground in a timely manner.

What the Regulations Say

ANSI Z359.2-2007 states, “Employers shall develop and maintain written fall protection and rescue procedures for every location where an active fall protection system is used to control a fall hazard.” Furthermore, “The employer shall provide prompt rescue to all fallen authorized persons.”

OSHA also requires prompt rescue. OSHA 1910.66, subpart F, section 1(e)(8), states, “The employer shall provide for prompt rescue of employees in the event of a fall or shall assure the self-rescue capability of employees.” OSHA 1926.502 (d)(20) reads similarly.

Within ANSI Z359.2, the recommended contact time, defined as communication or physical contact, is less than 6 minutes, but it gives leeway on the definition of “prompt rescue” as dependent on the situation. Most consultants recommend full rescue within 5 minutes, and no longer than 15 minutes. An efficient rescue will take between 4 and 6 minutes, in which time physical or verbal contact with the victim must be made.

Emergency Services

ANSI Z359.2, section 6.3, details the circumstances under which emergency services may be called upon to perform a rescue:

  • The program administrator or competent person must contact the rescue agency to determine if it is capable and competent of getting a suspended worker to the ground.
  • The rescue agency must inform the company, in writing, of its capabilities and availability to perform rescues. It also must notify the company of any limitations and address how it is to be summoned in the event of a fall. An employer also may be required to notify the agency of certain activities that could prompt a rescue. If the program administrator or competent person deems the agency capable of handling rescues, the rescue agency must furnish strategies and procedures for dealing with each potential rescue scenario.
  • The employer shall post procedures for summoning the rescue agency and circumstances under which the agency has requested notification.

While many companies include emergency services as a part of their rescue plans, some of those employers rely solely on the rescue agency. OSHA regulations require the provision of medical aid within 4 minutes, but professional services can never guarantee assistance within that timeframe. This is why every company with employees regularly working at height needs to have a rescue plan, or a section within the fall protection plan, addressing in-house procedures to rescue a fallen worker.

These procedures should include a description of all equipment to be used by the rescue team as well as instructions for performing the rescue safely and promptly. The program administrator must provide training for employees, or a selected group of employees, to become authorized rescuers.

Definition of Roles

ANSI Z359.2 defines the roles of those involved with the rescue program, including the program administrator, competent rescuer, authorized rescuer and competent rescuer trainer.

The program administrator is responsible for the development of the managed fall protection program, which includes the rescue plan. He or she must develop rescue procedures for each location a fall hazard is present. He also must name the competent and authorized rescuers, as well as the competent rescuer trainer, if he will not be assuming this role himself, and provide training for all involved.

The competent rescuer develops procedures and methods for conducting a rescue for each foreseeable fall hazard prior to the commencement of work, ensures that the authorized rescuers have been properly trained and are proficient at performing rescues, and identifies the resources necessary to conduct a rescue and verifies those resources are on hand. According to ANSI Z359.2, the role of the competent rescuer may be performed by emergency services, in-house rescuers, competent or qualified persons or contracted services.

The authorized rescuer’s primary responsibility is to perform or assist with rescues. He or she verifies that a rescue procedure has been developed for each fall hazard and inspects the rescue equipment.

The competent rescuer trainer’s primary responsibility is to train the competent and authorized rescuers. He or she must evaluate the circumstances under which a rescue may become necessary and provide training resembling as closely as possible the actual conditions.

Rescue Training 101

Who should be trained? Although not a requirement, every authorized person, or day-to-day user of fall protection equipment, should be trained in rescue and have the ability to perform a basic rescue. If not trained as an authorized rescuer, the authorized person needs, at the very minimum, awareness and a working knowledge of the company’s rescue plan, including his own role within the plan.

“Simple and safe” training. Any person who works regularly at height can become a trained rescuer in a short amount of time as long as he is taught simple and safe procedures. This means that rescue typically will utilize pre-engineered systems rather than technical rope rescue techniques, and will follow a “no knots, no knives” approach. High quality, authorized-person training programs include rescue elements, but courses differ, and there’s no requirement that authorized-person training include rescue techniques.

Training on and use of pre-engineered equipment is a simple and safe choice for rescue in most circumstances. Technical rescue techniques are difficult to master and require consistent practice. Furthermore, precious minutes tick by during which the suspended worker awaits rescue. Pre-engineered systems require no preparation prior to performing a rescue.

How should you train them? Training must include how, when and where rescue equipment is used, as well as how to inspect, store and maintain the equipment. According to OSHA and ANSI, training must simulate onsite conditions as accurately as possible. Classroom work is a component of rescue training, but demonstrations and hands-on practice are key. Competent and authorized rescuers must demonstrate proficiency during training. Training for authorized rescuers should include:

  • Fall hazard recognition;
  • Fall hazard elimination and control methods;
  • Applicable fall protection and rescue regulations;
  • How to use written fall protection and rescue procedures; and
  • How to inspect equipment components and systems before use.

Training for competent rescuers should include:

  • Fall hazard elimination and control methods;
  • Applicable fall protection and rescue regulations;
  • How to assess fall hazards to determine rescue methods;
  • Responsibilities of designated persons under ANSI Z359.2;
  • Detailed inspection and record keeping of rescue equipment components and systems;
  • Assessment of rescue systems and how to determine when a system is unsafe;
  • Development of written fall protection and rescue procedures; and
  • Selection and use of non-certified anchorages.

To stay current with fall protection regulations and rescue procedures, authorized rescuer update training should be conducted at least every 2 years. Competent rescuers should be retrained at least every year. Practicing rescue procedures on a regular basis is essential to perform a safe, effective rescue when an actual situation arises. Trainees should become proficient in each of the following types of rescue procedures: self-rescue and mechanically aided rescue.

Types of Rescue

Self-rescue will be carried out in 90 percent of rescue situations. A rescuer does not intervene in this type of rescue, instead letting the person who fell climb or pull him or herself to safety. This may be anywhere from a few inches to 2 or 3 feet, depending on the equipment. Following the worker’s safe return to the ground, he or she must remove from service all equipment involved in the fall.

Mechanically aided rescue means that a rescuer needs to intervene to help the worker to the ground. Mechanical aid can come in a number of forms, including a rope system, hoist line or aerial lift. A hoist line may be swung over to the suspended worker, who will grab hold of it. The hoist then lifts the worker to the level from which he fell. A pre-engineered rope system also can be set up to lower the worker to the ground.

Finally, an aerial lift can be used to rescue a worker. The lift is positioned beneath the suspended worker and raised so the worker lands within the bucket or cage of the lift. A rescuer attaches a restraint lanyard to the worker and, once connected, removes the impacted fall arrest equipment. In each of these cases, the impacted equipment must be removed from service.

Trainees must be taught that a quick rescue is essential. Any suspended worker, even if showing no signs, may have suffered an injury during a fall. A quick return to the ground also will mitigate the effects of suspension trauma.

Furthermore, every rescue plan should require the use of suspension trauma straps. This piece of equipment is attached to the worker’s harness. In the event of a fall, the worker activates it by releasing it from a pouch on either side of his harness at hip level, connecting the buckle and stepping into it to relieve pressure on the arteries.

Should the worker’s harness not be equipped with suspension trauma straps, the rescuer needs to be able to advise the suspended worker of the proper steps to prevent or mitigate the effects of suspension trauma. These methods include keeping the legs moving, pumping the legs and raising the knees to the body.

Fear-Free Training

Companies developing comprehensive fall protection programs must not neglect the importance of rescue training. Rescue is a simple part of the fall protection plan, and should not be feared. It’s as simple as designating and training competent and authorized rescuers and developing rescue procedures for each fall hazard at a jobsite.

When it comes to rescue training, bear in mind one phrase when selecting or developing your own program: Keep it simple and safe.

Jim Hutter is a senior training specialist with Capital Safety, Red Wing, Minn., which designs and manufactures the DBI-SALA and PROTECTA brands of height safety and fall protection equipment. For more information about products or training programs, please visit http://www.capitalsafety.com or call (800) 328-6146.

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