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Fall-protection equipment can cause injury or worse

Federal and state laws require employers to make work environments as safe as possible. To help employers comply with those laws, an entire industry exists around personal protective equipment.

When safety equipment poses a hazard

Unfortunately, sometimes the equipment meant to protect a worker can cause injury. In the worst cases, the consequences can be fatal. (When that happens, ensuring delivery of crucial death benefits for surviving family becomes top priority.)

One piece of personal protection equipment that carries inherent danger is the fall-protection harness. While a properly maintained and correctly used harness can be life-saving, safety experts warn about the potential for suspension trauma.

Medically known as orthostatic intolerance, suspension trauma can happen when a worker wearing a fall-protection system falls from a significant height and hangs suspended for too long. The longer the worker remains in that condition, the greater the chances of suffering trauma symptoms, such as:

  • Breathlessness
  • Paleness
  • Extreme heart-rate fluctuations
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Unconsciousness

Swift rescue needed

One of the most common examples of orthostatic intolerance is the soldier who faints while standing at attention for too long. When that happens, the soldier typically falls flat and the being in the horizontal position gets blood flowing again. Typically, recovery is quick.

However, when a suspended worker is hanging unconscious, he or she cannot end up in the horizontal position to get blood flowing again and needs to be helped. The longer it takes to rescue the worker, the greater the risk of suspension trauma.

The result can be a workplace injury that requires filing a workers' compensation claim, which can come with its own set of frustrations, including legal battles to ensure delivery of all the benefits to which an employee is entitled by law.

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