Fall Protection Rescue -- Addressing the Issue in the Updated ANSI Standard

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Occupational Health & Safety magazine

Summary Statement

Describes the updated standard for fall protection, ANSI Z359, which will contain guidelines for rescue after a fall.
March 2004

The information in this article is helpful for construction, but the Z359 standard does not apply to construction. The ANSI A-10 committee is developing a standard on emergency procedures for construction.

The emphasis is placed on planning for emergencies as part of the overall fall protection program.

The updated standard for fall protection, ANSI Z359, will contain two important guidelines for rescue. A portion designated Z359.0 will provide facility managers a plan to build and maintain rescue operations, while Z359.3 is a new standard dedicated to the construction, use, and training required for fall protection rescue equipment.

Many facilities that are required to use fall protection pay minimal attention to the need for rescue from a fall, even though it is a clear OSHA requirement. The new ANSI standards recognize that an arrested fall is the first rescue that has taken place--the worker was prevented from impacting structures below him or the ground. However, most users of fall protection equipment fail to adequately plan further than this first life/injury saving step.

Case studies have revealed that time and time again, the saved worker may well remain suspended by his equipment for an inordinate amount of time while co-workers are left to scramble to figure out what to do next. This author is familiar with a situation in which the suspended worker dangled in the direct path of a venting steam line for over 20 minutes! As dangerous as the potential fall path may be, there is increasing evidence of the dangers of suspension injuries and deaths caused by hanging inanimate in a harness for even a relatively short period of time. It is for these and other reasons that the ANSI fall protection standards committee addressed the critical issue of rescue.

It is important to point out that the standard is not written for professional rescuers such as fire, police, and ambulance personnel. Rather, the standards were developed for industrial equipment users as well as manufacturers. While rope rescue utilized by professionals may be an ultimate call after other rescue means are considered and/or tried and rejected, these standards are written for equipment users as planned rescues. The emphasis is placed on planning for emergencies as part of the overall fall protection program.

The hierarchy of fall protection rescue is simple: self-rescue by the worker who has fallen, assisted rescue by co-workers, and, if all else fails, calling in professional rescuers. A couple of notes: A facility should call for the professionals as soon as a worker takes a fall. Remember that the pros can always be turned around if our fallen worker is otherwise rescued. And assisted rescue by co-workers could consist of any of many means of assistance, from leaning out to hand a fallen worker a piece of rescue equipment or cranking the worker up or down to safety, even to using an on-site rescue squad utilizing professional rope rescue techniques (again, these techniques are not yet covered by these standards).

Highlights from Z359.3

A very small taste of rescue-related highlights from Z359.3:

  • A competent fall protection rescue trainer is defined as somebody with the necessary education, knowledge, and experience who can safely and effectively teach others. The trainer is expected to have the skills to teach and to include hands-on rescue training.
  • A fall protection rescue plan has to be prepared by a competent person before any work can proceed.
  • The rescue plan shall consider using secondary back-up safety lines for the rescue subject during a rescue operation.
  • Emergency response personnel should be trained to recognize and respond to the risks of suspension trauma.

The bottom line is that facility managers are going to have to take a close look at their fall protection program to consider how to plan to respond to emergencies--that exercise will save workers' lives! [OHS endbug]

Michael R. Roop (mroop@houston.rr.com or 281-238-8806) of MRE Training & Consulting, LLC in Richmond , Texas , is a principal committee member of the ANSI Z359 Fall Protection Committee and the Z359.3 Rescue Subcommittee. Roop also serves as a principal member on the ANSI Z117 Confined Space Committee. He was a principal member of NFPA's (National Fire Protection Association) two technical rescue committees: Operations and Training for Rescue Incidents and Rescue Technician Professional Qualifications. These NFPA committees developed national standards for technical rescue for confined spaces and other disciplines. Additionally, he serves as Chairman of the American Industrial Hygiene Association's (AIHA) Technical Committee for Confined Spaces. Roop served as a member of the Board of Directors for the Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians (SPRAT), which has developed national standards that include high angle rescue and emergency response. He is a graduate of Southeastern Louisiana University with a B.A in Criminal Justice and the author of numerous articles for national publications. His book, "Confined Space and Structural Rope Rescue," published by Harcourt (Mosby Lifeline) Publications, is considered the preeminent professional training publication on the subject of confined space and high angle rescue.