Wearing a fall-arrest system when working high-elevation construction jobs can prevent some devastating effects of a fall. However, workers who experience this type of incident could develop a serious side effect called suspension trauma, or orthostatic intolerance.
Get the facts about suspension trauma and how it can impact construction workers after a fall.
Symptoms of suspension trauma
Orthostatic intolerance may occur when a person remains suspended in a harness after falling while awaiting rescue. Immobility in the suspended position can result in weakness, sweating, headache, dizziness, fatigue, tremors, heart palpitations, impaired concentration and light-headedness. Without medical attention, the person could experience fainting, kidney failure, loss of consciousness and even death.
Workers have a higher risk of this complication if they experience trauma during the fall, have respiratory disease or cardiovascular disorder, have dehydration or hypothermia, go into shock, experience fatigue or cannot move their legs.
The biology of suspension trauma
When the worker stays in the suspension harness until rescue arrives, blood collects in the legs and cannot circulate through the body. In response, the person’s heart rate accelerates to keep blood flowing to the brain, which does not work because of the limited blood supply.
Workers should understand how to respond to a fall accident involving suspension and understand the risks of orthostatic intolerance. The dangerous effects of this type of incident can occur in just 30 minutes of harness suspension.
Anyone who uses a fall-arrest device on the job should be sure that the equipment fits and works correctly.