Suspension trauma has a few different names—Harness hang, harness-induced pathology and orthostatic intolerance (the medical term). Consequences can be fatal, and it’s important to be aware of symptoms and ways to prevent its onset.
Suspension trauma has its fair share of misconceptions—One of the biggest is that it’s a myth.
In this article, we discuss three myths that surround suspension trauma you must know.
MYTH #1: SUSPENSION TRAUMA ISN’T REAL
It is! Suspension trauma happens when a worker’s movement is vertically suspended, restricted and upright for an extended period of time and lose consciousness.
But why does this happen? Blood pools in the legs and makes them swell, while blood pressure drops. Typically, when orthostatic intolerance sets in the victim faints so blood will re-circulate through the body—A worker in restrictive fall arresting equipment can’t do this.
It can be minor, too—A common example is people who are still for long periods of time and faint, or feel dizzy when they get up.
Now, imagine you’ve arrested a fall, don’t have a rescue plan and first responders are still on the way. 5 minutes, 10 minutes, and now 25 minutes pass. You know that suspension trauma can set in after just 30 minutes. Time is ticking. You’re covered in sweat, you feel dizzy and terribly nauseous.
Finally, you’re cut down and pass out, unconscious. You’re in the hospital—There’s paperwork, lost-time and incident investigations to happen. Who knew a little slip could cause so much trouble?
Yes, you’re alive, but next time, you’ll definitely have a rescue plan. And suspension trauma is real.
MYTH #2: SAFETY HARNESSES MAKE SUSPENSION TRAUMA EXTINCT
Suspension trauma is still a reality. Yes, education, training and equipment reduce injuries and fatalities in industrial workplaces, but prevention is still a priority. Look at it this way—Vaccines exist for illness like the measles, but people still contract it when they don’t use preventative measures.
Individual factors increase a worker’s risk to develop the trauma, and its effects are not easy to predict person-to-person.
These factors include:
- Individual’s ability to manage anxiety/stress
- Harness selection & fit
- Poor training
- Previous injury or illness
This is why training is vital. It’s important to teach employees not only what happens when you use the wrong PPE, but psychological coping mechanisms to help a worker deal with a potential fall. Proper training will also emphasize the importance to continuously move your legs in specific ways to maintain circulation—It’s important The right safety harness and leg straps will allow the worker to move
MYTH #3: WHEN THE HARNESS IS OFF, IT’S OVER
Okay, so when I take the safety harness off I’m fine, right? Wrong.
Workers in vertical positions must receive medical attention immediately after release. In past suspension trauma cases, victims have died after the harness comes off—This is known as ‘rescue death’.
Some doctors think it’s caused when blood tries to circulate through the body at its normal pace, and can’t. Did you know leg muscles are one of your body’s auxiliary pumps? When legs hang, motionless and upright, it pinches the arteries and blood can’t flow to crucial parts of the body, like the heart and brain.
- Leg circulation
- Heart circulation
- Brain circulation
Fortunately, like we mention above, industrial environments benefit with the right personal protective equipment (PPE) and training to prevent suspension trauma. Recorded injuries from suspension trauma are somewhat rare—But training and proper PPE are key to this.
A body harness that doesn’t fit properly, is fit with the wrong accessories or is uncomfortable, does more harm than good. Remember—Suspension trauma does exist, the right safety harness help prevent it and negative effects of suspension trauma can linger after the harness is off. It’s important to train yourself and workers (even those who may not be working at heights) of the risk and procedures to take before, during and after a fall.