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What is suspension trauma?

22 December 2021
Brendan Clayton

What is suspension trauma?

Also known as Harness hang syndrome, suspension trauma can be deadly!

So you've implemented safety harnesses to keep your staff safe whilst working at heights, which is a great start, but you must also consider the dangers associated with hanging in a safety harness after a fall takes place, known as Suspension Trauma.

So what exactly is Suspension Trauma? Suspension Trauma is also know as Orthostatic Intolerance or Harness Hang Syndrome and can be deadly so must be taken seriously.

When a worker falls from a roof and has been arrested by a fall arrest device connected to his or her safety harness and is left hanging in their safety harness. 

During this period, the harness’s leg straps support the entire bodyweight of the individual. In this position circulation in the legs can be lost as the femoral arteries are crushed from the weight of the individual and position of the harness.

Another hazard to be aware of is what is known as venous pooling. In the hanging position the leg muscles relax, and the veins expand in a process known as vasodilation. As the muscles in the legs are not being used, the veins do not contract. This results in blood gathering in the legs and not being recirculated back to the heart and lungs. This process can result in a 20 percent reduction in circulation.

As a result of the drop in circulation, the heart begins to work harder to keep the brain and vital organs supplied with blood. As this increases an individual may experience nausea, reduced heart rate and blood pressure, and even lose consciousness. Safety and medical professionals identify this stage as the onset of circulatory shock.

Once the individual is brought down from their hanging position, they still may be in danger. The harness hang syndrome results in a build-up of lactic acid in the pooling blood. When the worker is brought down, the acidic blood is suddenly circulated through the body and can place vital organs such as the kidneys, liver and even heart under significant and life-threatening stress. Industroquip

Suspension Trauma is basically when a worker loses consciousness as a result of poor circulation caused by hanging in a harness and the harness is inhibiting circulation in the legs.

So what can I do about Suspension Trauma and prevent this happening to my staff?

The quickest and easiest solution is adding Suspension Trauma Straps or Steps to your Safety Harness, we do sell them here at Industroquip and so would all good height safety companies in Australia. 

As the dangers of hanging in a harness are potentially life threatening, safety training and rescue protocols are vital in reducing body suspension risks and saving someone’s life. Before conducting work at any height, it is crucial that a safety check is thoroughly completed to determine the most appropriate PPE and fall arrest systems are in place. Should this require the use of a harness and fall arrest system, all individuals should have an adequate understanding of the dangers of hanging in a harness and Harness Hang Syndrome.

Harnesses must be compliant to Australian Standards, comfortable, and not interfere with task completion. And on top of that the length of the lanyard should be appropriately chosen to reduce the stress on the body should a fall occur.

All staff should be aware of what to do should an emergency arise. This should include knowing who is responsible for the fall arrest rescue, information on local health authorities and the hazards present after a worker has been brought down.

SafeWork NSW and other Government Safety Agencies have great resources available on suspension trauma on their websites, you can view the NSW document on height safety by clicking this link.

Want more information on Height Safety? Reach out to our Height Safety Category Manager - Gary Clayton on 1300 554 192.




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