Suspension trauma, also known as orthostatic intolerance, occurs when a person remains suspended in a harness for an extended period, typically after a fall arrest. In this article, we’ll discuss the effects of suspension trauma on the body, first aid requirements, immediate and long-term health effects, and prevention strategies.

Effects of Suspension Trauma on the Body: When a person is suspended in a harness, blood can pool in the legs due to gravity, leading to inadequate blood circulation and reduced oxygen supply to the brain and vital organs. This can cause dizziness, fainting, and even life-threatening complications if not addressed promptly.

First Aid Requirements:

  1. Assess the situation: Quickly evaluate the suspended person’s condition, and if they are conscious, reassure and encourage them to move their legs and stay alert.
  2. Prompt rescue: Perform a rescue as soon as possible to minimize the time spent in suspension and prevent severe complications.
  3. Controlled descent: Lower the person to the ground slowly and carefully to avoid sudden changes in blood pressure.
  4. Recovery position: Place the person in the recovery position (on their side) to facilitate blood circulation and prevent choking.
  5. Seek medical attention: Even if the person appears to have recovered, seek immediate medical attention to assess for any potential complications.

Immediate Health Effects: Exposure to suspension trauma can lead to immediate health effects, such as:

  1. Dizziness and fainting: Reduced blood flow to the brain can cause dizziness, confusion, and fainting.
  2. Nausea and vomiting: Some individuals may experience nausea or vomiting due to inadequate blood circulation.
  3. Pain and numbness: Prolonged suspension can cause pain, numbness, and tingling in the legs.

Long-Term Health Effects: In severe cases or if not promptly addressed, suspension trauma can result in long-term health effects, such as:

  1. Kidney failure: Insufficient blood flow to the kidneys can lead to kidney damage or failure.
  2. Compartment syndrome: Prolonged suspension can cause pressure buildup in the leg muscles, leading to compartment syndrome, which may require surgery.
  3. Neurological damage: Reduced blood flow to the nerves can cause long-lasting nerve damage or paralysis.

Prevention: To minimise the risks associated with suspension trauma in the workplace, consider implementing the following strategies:

  1. Fall prevention: Implement fall prevention measures, such as guardrails and safety nets, to reduce the risk of falls.
  2. Proper harness selection: Choose harnesses with padding and features designed to prevent suspension trauma, such as built-in leg straps that allow workers to relieve pressure on their legs.
  3. Training: Provide workers with regular training on fall protection equipment, proper harness use, and suspension trauma risks.
  4. Rescue plans: Develop and implement a comprehensive rescue plan, including training and equipment, to ensure a prompt and effective response in case of a fall arrest.
  5. Buddy system: Encourage workers to use a buddy system when working at height, so they can monitor each other and quickly respond to emergencies.

Understanding the effects of suspension trauma on the body, being prepared with first aid measures, and implementing prevention strategies can help reduce immediate and long-term health risks in the workplace.

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