But while experts credit employers for making strides in their commitment to fall safety in recent years, they say many firms' rescue plans are in need of rescue if they have a rescue plan at all.
Here are a few guidelines for ensuring that your rescue efforts don't leave workers hanging, so to speak, after the fall.
1. Develop a rescue plan for anyone working at heights. The process of developing a rescue plan might include determining the best method to reach each worker, whether it's by ladder, crane, aerial lift, articulated lift, etc.; timing how long it takes to get from one end of the job site or plant to the other; determining whether a worker would be raised or lowered to safety; and determining if a worker would have a clear fall path or not. As every work site has different logistics, each rescue plan will be different, but the objective always is to make post-fall rescues a "pre-planned" event.
2. Put it in writing. The process of thinking through the rescue plan, writing it down and communicating it to workers helps turn a chaotic, stressful event into something orderly and scripted and that can save minutes and lives.
3. Involve workers. The workers who are up on that scaffolding or that communications tower every day should be involved in the development of the rescue plan. They know the hazards and logistics best, and often they're the ones best-suited to perform the rescue on their co-workers.
4. Plan for the worst. In a perfect world, falls are short, fall protection equipment minimizes the maximum arrest force and the worker is conscious and able to perform self-rescue. In real life, though, things happen. At the very least, develop a plan to rescue an unconscious worker at heights. Experts stress that employers should not assume that all emergency personnel are trained in the complexities of high-angle rescue employers always should assume that it's their own responsibility to rescue their workers.
5. Train accordingly. Simulate a post-fall rescue using a mannequin. Put your rescue plan through its paces to see if you've calculated correctly for obstructions and other logistical barriers. If your plan needs some tweaking, it's better to find out during a drill rather than during an actual rescue, when lives are on the line. Safety picnics and other annual safety events are good opportunities to simulate a rescue.
6. Contact local emergency personnel before a fall. While experts say that calling 9-1-1 in itself does not constitute a thorough post-fall rescue plan, they recommend particularly for construction sites contacting the local fire department and hospital before work even starts. Employers should inform emergency organizations of where their site is located and what some of the potential access problems are as well as find out how long it would take for an ambulance or fire truck to get to the site before a fall occurs. In some instances, employers ask fire departments to come to their job site for co-training on safety issues. Other employers may ask fire departments to visit the job site and sign an agreement that shows they've assessed the specific job risks.
7. Consult the standard. This last suggestion ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, but the American National Standards Institute Z359.1 committee is expected to promulgate a "family of standards" in 2006 that will update its existing fall protection standard and will include a new, comprehensive section on developing a managed fall protection program, including developing a post-fall rescue plan.
For more information about fall protection, visit the Fall Protection Safety Zone at www.occupationalhazards.com/safety_zones/37.