Fall harness -- a life-saving device that can cause your death

If you are a construction worker in Nebraska, you might find comfort in knowing that your employer provides you with a fall-arrest harness that will keep you safe from suffering an impact injury in the event of a fall from an elevated work area. What you might not know is that, once the harness stops your fall, it turns into a device that could kill you. It is crucial that your safety training in the proper use of a fall-arrest system includes post-fall protection procedures.

Safety authorities say that your life-saving personal protective equipment could cause orthostatic intolerance. If rescuers do not remove you from the harness within 30 minutes, you could die.

What is orthostatic intolerance?

Another name for this life-threatening condition is suspension trauma, which can set in quickly. It involves the pooling of blood in the blood vessels of your feet, a natural bodily reaction if you remain immobile in an upright position. Venous pooling, or the excessive blood accumulation in the veins, limits blood circulation, starving the heart and brain of oxygenated blood. The leg straps of your fall harness will further restrict blood flow to your heart as they exert pressure on your leg veins.

What are the warning signs?

It is crucial to learn about the telltale signs of suspension trauma, to prepare you for the day that you might find yourself in such a situation. You could feel faint and experience breathlessness and dizziness. You will likely turn pale, experience hot flashes and start sweating. Your heart rate and your blood pressure might become dangerously low. You might have vision loss, and you will likely lose consciousness.

What can you do to reduce the danger?

Safety authorities say that forcing your body into a standing position -- even in your suspended state -- will cause contraction of your leg muscles. This will exert pressure on the veins and force the pooled blood to flow to your brain and heart. However, this measure can only delay more severe consequences, and getting out of the harness as soon as possible is crucial.

If you become unconscious under normal circumstances, you would fall over. This will cause the horizontal line-up of your heart, brain, legs and veins, allowing more natural blood flow. If your body remains vertical after losing consciousness, blood circulation will remain restricted. For this reason, it is vital for rescuers to remove you from the harness and lay you down in a horizontal position before starting trauma resuscitation. Medical care after such an event is essential to prevent delayed conditions such as kidney failure.

How will you cope with the financial consequences?

This is something else in which you might find comfort as a construction worker in Nebraska. The state-regulated workers' compensation insurance system will have your back. The program offers benefits to cover all your medical expenses along with a portion of your lost wages. You will have to set the ball rolling by reporting your injury to your employer and then filing a benefits claim. Resources are available to provide support and guidance throughout the legal and administrative procedures.

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