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A fall harness might save you — suspension trauma might kill you

On Behalf of | Aug 13, 2018 | Injuries, Workers' Compensation |

If you are a construction worker in Iowa, you will likely know that you should never work at an elevated level without a fall protection harness. However, have you received training in the proper use of such a harness? Do you know that, even if it arrests your fall, your life may still be at risk? Suspension trauma could cause your death if you hang in the harness for too long.

The purpose of a fall harness and its lanyards is to prevent you from striking the ground or another surface at a lower level. Once it has succeeded in that role, the harness can become a life-threatening hazard.

Suspension trauma

After an arrested fall, suspended in your fall harness, you will likely experience physiological effects that could cause your death if rescuers do not remove you promptly. This insidious danger follows the following course of reactions:

  • Harness hang syndrome and orthostatic intolerance are other names for suspension trauma, which occurs when your body remains upright without movement.
  • Hanging without movement prevents blood from following the normal flow of blood through the heart and lungs and back to the legs. Instead, blood pools in the legs because the relaxed state of your leg muscles allows the expansion of the veins in the legs.
  • Without the normal blood flow, your brain, lungs and other organs will suffer oxygen starvation.
  • The lack of oxygen in your legs will cause the blood cells to start the anaerobic respiration process in desperation to produce energy.
  • This process breaks down the blood sugars into lactic acid. When lactic acid builds up, it can become life-threatening when rescuers put your body in a horizontal position after your rescue.

What are the symptoms of suspension trauma?

Each incident is unique, and while some victims develop symptoms quickly, the bodies of others may take up to 20 minutes to react. Injuries suffered during the fall will affect the level of trauma you experience and the time it will take to show the following symptoms:

  • Along with a numb feeling in your legs, you might become sweaty, and your skin might feel clammy and cold while your pulse speeds up.
  • Nausea may follow along with breath shortness, and you might become lightheaded and dizzy.
  • As your vision becomes blurry, you might eventually lose consciousness due to the lack of movement.
  • If you faint, your blood pressure will drop, and there will be even less oxygen going to the brain.
  • At this stage the situation becomes critical. If rescuers do not remove you from the harness within five minutes, brain damage might begin.
  • If you remain suspended and unconscious for longer, severe brain damage can follow. Organ failure can occur, and you might suffocate and die.

Your rights to safety

While this might seem like a heartless rendition of a potentially life-threatening situation, it is meant to underscore the importance of learning all about fall protection. The fact that you strap on a safety harness may not save your life. Furthermore, learning all about safe rescue techniques is equally crucial because the danger continues even after a victim is back on the ground.

If you are a victim of a construction accident that left you suspended in a fall harness for some time, your workers’ compensation benefits may take care of medical expenses and lost wages. You can utilize the services of an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to navigate the claims process on your behalf.


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