Working at Heights – What is Suspension Trauma and How Can You Avoid It?

When working at heights, most consideration is devoted to scaffolding and safety harnesses. But what about suspension trauma?
What is Suspension Trauma?
Suspension trauma, also known as “harness hang syndrome” is caused by holding the body upright and unsupported for an extended period of time. The heart struggles to overcome the effects of gravity, reducing blood flow to the brain. Initially the person suspended will faint, but if left in the position for too long, they could potentially die as their brain is deprived of oxygen.
Suspension trauma occurs when the person being suspended becomes motionless, therefore it is extremely important that the person harnessed remain moving if even they are trapped in the harness. Usually suspension trauma will set in after 20 minutes of free hanging.
Avoiding Suspension Trauma
It is important for employers to train staff carefully to deal with working in such conditions. The employer should ensure that the employee keeps moving regularly to maintain healthy circulation. It is important that the employer makes sure the employee is never left unattended, and that other employees are able to look for signs of potential trauma.
If an individual does become trapped, it is essential that they should have their legs raised so that they are moved into a seated position to reduce circulatory problems. If that is not possible, the trapped individual needs to keep their legs moving by pushing off a nearby wall or pedaling in the air. It is very important that the trapped employee does not get exhausted!
Training is key. All staff of the project should have had proper training in single rope techniques.

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Read more about suspension trauma.