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Injured workers: Harness can arrest fall but poses other risks

Colorado employers must provide fall protection to all workers that work higher than six feet above a lower level. However, while harnesses and securely hooked lanyards can arrest workers' falls, there are other dangers to contemplate. If employees slip and fall from significant heights, their fall protection will keep the injured workers suspended in the air. It is what happens to the body of the person dangling at the end of the lanyard that can lead to his or her death.

According to medical experts, suspension trauma occurs when a fall victim in a full-body harness is suspended for more than a few minutes. This is also called orthostatic intolerance and can cause weakness, dizziness, fainting and sweating. The immobility and pressure of the leg straps of the harness can cause the accumulation of blood in the veins. Suspension trauma can start affecting a fall victim within minutes -- especially if the person loses consciousness while suspended.

Additional protection for workers involves making a rapid rescue plan. This must be part of any construction company's safety protocol. If rescuers do not remove a suspended worker from the harness within six minutes, experts say there can be permanent damage. Although it is rare -- depending on the health of the victim -- orthostatic intolerance can cause death.

Injured workers in Colorado who were left suspended in fall protection harnesses for enough time to cause damage may suffer long-term consequences. Financial implications brought about by medical expenses and lost income can ruin the economic stability of any family. Fortunately, victims may file benefits claims with the workers' compensation insurance company. Experienced workers' compensation attorneys can help with the navigation of such claims.

Source: safetyandhealthmagazine.com, "Suspension trauma prevention", Accessed on Jan. 7, 2017

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