If you are a construction worker in California who frequently risks your life by working at dangerous heights, you might fear the day that you suffer a fall. You might find comfort in the knowledge that your personal protective fall harness and lanyards will arrest your fall before you strike any hard surface below your work area.
However, are you aware of the risks of hanging in the fall harness? The danger will only be over once you are safely on the ground and your blood circulation is normal again. If you want to survive a fall from an elevated work area, you must make sure your co-workers know how to remove you from the harness safely — and that time is of the essence.
The threat of suspension trauma
Safety authorities say you could lose your life within 30 minutes if you remain suspended in your harness. If your co-workers or rescue workers do not bring you to safety quickly, you can suffer suspension trauma. The following physiological changes will take place in your body:
- Your leg muscles will relax when you hang upright and are unable to move.
- Vasodilation will take place, which means the expansion of the veins in your legs.
- Vasodilation prevents blood from traveling from your legs to your lungs and heart because it pools in the expanded veins in your legs.
- Without the necessary blood circulation, your brain and other organs will not receive oxygen.
- Oxygen starvation will cause the leg cells to break down blood sugar into lactic acid to produce energy.
A build-up of lactic acid in the blood can threaten your life if your rescuers do not know the proper procedure to allow your blood circulation to return to normal gradually.
Symptoms of suspension trauma
You may experience suspension trauma symptoms soon after the fall, or it might only start after about 20 minutes. Depending on your consciousness and your ability to move your legs, the following symptoms will indicate danger:
- You will experience leg numbness.
- You may sweat, and your skin could become clammy and cold.
- You might become nauseous.
- Your heart rate will increase, causing you to feel dizzy.
- Breath shortness and a blurry vision might follow.
- The lack of movement may cause you to faint, which will lead to a sudden blood pressure drop.
- Your brain will receive even less oxygen.
Once you become unconscious, brain damage could occur within five minutes. After another five minutes, your organs might fail, leading to suffocation and death.
The need for speed
Knowing the risks of hanging in a fall harness is essential, and your employer must ensure that there is an emergency plan in place. All the workers must know how to bring you to safety without causing injuries, and how to make sure that your blood circulation returns to normal gradually.
Even if your fall harness prevented you from striking the ground, the forceful stop of the arrest could have caused injuries, and the time you spent in suspension will leave you in need of medical care. The California workers’ compensation insurance program will likely cover the medical bills and lost wages — if your injuries caused temporary disability. Experienced legal counsel can assist with the complicated claims process in pursuit of financial assistance.