Suspension trauma, also known as harness hang syndrome, suspension syndrome, or suspension syncope, is a life-threatening condition that occurs after a fall when the human body is held upright without any movement for a period of time. If an individual is strapped into a harness, this condition will occur more rapidly. If not rescued in time, the individual will eventually faint. Fainting, while remaining vertical, increases the risk of death from cerebral hypoxia (brain damage).
Suspension trauma is the main reason why it is imperative to perform a rescue as soon as possible after a fall has been arrested.
WHY DOES SUSPENSION TRAUMA OCCUR
When a person is suspended after a fall, the heart continues to pump blood to the body. Combining the effects of gravity with the pressure the harness leg straps place on the main blood vessels in the groin area (the femoral artery and the femoral vein), it becomes difficult for the blood to circulate througout the body. The result of this is a collection of blood in the leg areas.
Due to the inability of blood to return to the heart to be oxyginated, there is less oxginated blood available to circulate to the vital organs, such as the brain, lungs, heart and kidneys. When the brain becomes deprived of oxygen the victim will in turn faint. The consequences of this can be incredibly severe and even life-threating, with the victim having the potential to experience brain damage, kidney failure or even death.
Without any movement, suspension trauma can cause a loss of consciousness to the victim in only a few minutes and the resultant knock-on effects occur rapidly thereafter.
For this reason, every individual who is suspended from a fall must be treated as if they are in a life threatening situation.
The process of suspension trauma simplified in steps:
Because suspension trauma occurs over a period of time, the more time available to perform the rescue, the better the chances the victim has of making a full recovery. As a result, it is imperative for individuals who work at heights to be mindful of the following factors that can increase the rate at which suspension trauma kicks in:
As the above points contribute to the speed of onset of suspension trauma, it is vital that the rescue team, first responder or even the supervisor maintain communication with the victim and assess the physical and psychological state of the victim. A person who is experiencing majority of the above symptoms will have mere minutes before experiencing severe suspension trauma whereas a person who is well hydrated, energised and is able to move their legs freely after a fall may be able to hang suspended a lot longer before feeling the effects of suspension trauma.
It is important to note that suspension trauma can be prevented with the right knowledge and training. How are a few tips on how to prevent suspension trauma.
Ensuring your staff are well trained in their respective working at heights environments and making use of the correct equipment for their requirements goes a long way in ensuring their safety and equipping them with best practice in accordance with local legislation.
For more information on an extensive range of working at heights equipment, visit www.bova.co.za. To register your employees for their respective working at heights training requirements, visit www.bbfsheqservices.com