Neglecting rescue in fall protection

A DEJECTED safety professional sits in his office and ponders the limited future he now has within his company. It would seem that he slipped into a common trap, for the past year he has worked diligently on a new fall protection plan, wherever possible eliminating hazards and installing restraint systems to keep the workers back from the edge.

Fall arrest systems are essential tools in the safety professionals arsenal, but Emmett McGregor* reminds readers equipment is only as good as the people using it.

DEJECTED safety professional sits in his office and ponders the limited future he now has within his company.

It would seem that he slipped into a common trap, for the past year he has worked diligently on a new fall protection plan, wherever possible eliminating hazards.

Only where there was no other choice did he use fall arrest systems. His plan was to keep the workers back from the fall hazard everywhere he could, but unfortunately there were still areas where the workers needed to be in fall arrest, and this was where he missed a very critical factor.

Everything was as it should be, or so he thought, but then it happened. Someone fell and the makeshift attempt at getting him down resulted in the fallen worker being dropped and hitting the ground. The safety professional’s mistake was that he had not properly planned for a fall.

Unplanned rescues do more than just risk dropping the fallen worker. They also risk time, and time is critical when a suspended worker is hanging motionless.

Rescue Planning

Rescue planning should not stop at the fallen worker but must also incorporate self rescue or emergency descent. In short, any time a worker is at height there must be an emergency procedure in place that provides for their egress to the ground or a safe work platform.

Even if our beleaguered safety professional had put a rescue program into place he still may be in trouble if he had not made the right choices for equipment. Equipment selection should always depend upon the job being done.

Too often a rescue plan is implemented without consideration of where the workers are during an emergency. Choosing the right tool and techniques should include an inherent versatility that will allow the rescuers to easily apply the tool to the work area and particular rescue situation.

With the right equipment and procedures, rescue does not have to be “technical” and can be quite simple.

Whether conducting a full rescue of a fallen worker or self rescue with an automatic or manually controlled descent device, our goal needs to focus on getting the worker down safely and efficiently.

Our first example is the suspended worker. Working at height presents a number of risks that can be mitigated with the right equipment.

If the worker falls we may have a situation where we have someone suspended, often out of reach and possibly very high up. Getting to the fallen worker and then having the ability to raise them up enough to get them off their system is the challenge.

One solution is to use a raising and lowering system to get a rescuer in place to attach to the fallen worker. This system should be pre-rigged and provide a level of control beyond any improvised hauling system.

The original and still best raising and lowering system in the industry is the RollGliss system. The R350 provides a range of choices for lifting from 1:1 to 5:1 and the added friction of the top drum when lowering.

The beauty of this system is it’s simplicity, workers needing to use it in a rescue merely pull it out of its bag, clip the anchor carabiner onto a secure anchorage and the other carabiner goes on a rescuer or the fallen worker.

The mechanical advantage and lowering system is pre-engineered and already rigged. There is no need to try and remember knots or the physics of how to set up a hauling system when you are in the middle of a rescue.

Making rescues simple is the first and foremost goal of the system. The RollGliss R250 is lighter and slightly less versatile, offering a pick pole, which is an extendable pole for attaching the rescue system to the suspended worker.

But what if we don’t need to rescue someone and in fact our emergency situation requires the evacuation of a location? A key example of this is from a bucket truck, elevated work platform or the cab of an overhead crane.

These workers face the added challenge of getting themselves down in an emergency, especially where they no longer have the ability to get down the way they got up.

For the site that hasn’t prepared for these emergencies, the worker can be faced with some very difficult decisions on how he is going to get himself down. Does he jump, climb down the cable or throw a rope off the side and shimmy down?

Unfortunately, in an emergency situation people are not always thinking as rationally as they could be and their choices may not be the best for their future well being.

Finding the right solution should again consider the fact that whatever we use should be as simple as possible and understand that the people about to use this device may not be extremely well trained in self-evacuation.

If our safety professional has done their job, jumping doesn’t need to be a choice.

These workers have two very simple solutions that will work well depending upon the level of involvement or control desired/needed by the operator.

The first option is for an automatic controlled descent whereby the operator simply attaches their harness onto the device, steps off the platform and descends to the ground at a controlled rate of descent.

Mounted at or near the work area, the operator will put on his harness, connect into the descender and step off the platform to be brought down to the ground safely at a controlled rate of descent predetermined by the manufacture.

Automatic descenders provide a very simple and effective solution, but they cannot answer all the scenarios faced by a worker at height. Some work situations require a level of portability not offered by the automatic descenders.

The area below the worker may also not be conducive to them descending at a set speed without the ability to stop before hitting the hazard below.

In these scenarios the most effective tool for the worker is a manual controlled descent device that gives the worker the ability to slow their descent or to even stop it midway down.

This way the worker can either bring the rope and descender with them to the area where they are working or even keep it with them at all times. A number of well-designed systems are available but whatever the choice the descender should be simple to put on the rope or webbing and have the ability to lock onto the rope/web automatically if the worker panics or lets go.

Our safety professional is now faced with the long and arduous task of dealing with his accident investigation (a whole other story) which may last long beyond his own tenure with the company.

Worse though is the fact that all the effort he made to implement the site’s fall protection program was for nothing because he overlooked a critical component: rescue.

Whether your requirement is for rescue retrieval or evacuation choosing the right tool for the job is critical. Once chosen, make sure that workers required to use these tools are properly trained so that any rescue or evacuation is safe, simple and efficient.

Remember to always get an active fallen worker to the ground as quickly as is safely possible, to have them keep their legs moving to help with the blood flow and never immediately lay down an unconscious or immobile worker who is showing signs of suspension trauma.

* Emmett McGregor is marketing & technical support manager with Capital Safety Group and an active fall protection and industrial rescue trainer.

For more information email sales@capitalsafety.com.au.