How to Create and Manage a Fall Rescue Plan
Year after year fall protection is number one on the top 10 OSHA violations. According to the CDC and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), falls are the leading cause of death for construction workers. In 2019 they caused more than one in three fatalities in the industry.
Falls are prevented by installing protection measures such as handrails. However, sometimes workers must work outside those protections. When that occurs, fall protection PPE is often the next step. Gear such as harnesses and lanyards protect workers from falling a great distance, thus reducing the chance of injury or death. However, when an incident occurs, workers can be injured or killed by the very equipment installed to save them if they are not rescued promptly.
Swift response is necessary due to the trauma that can be caused by hanging from a harness. An OSHA technical bulletin says that suspension trauma can be fatal in less than 30 minutes. Dangerous side effects can occur within 3 to 5 minutes of a fall. Calling emergency services isn’t enough. Crews must take action immediately to help.
With this in mind, we’re going to look at what a fall rescue plan is, how it differs from a fall protection plan, and how to write and manage a fall rescue plan.
What Is a Fall Rescue Plan?
A fall protection plan (FPP) is a safety plan for workers working at elevation. It provides guidance to workers on how to protect themselves and procedures for rescuing workers who have fallen at height. Rescue sections, or fall rescue plans, are only required if you are using fall arresting equipment, such as lanyards or harnesses. However, it is a good practice to have a rescue section in every fall protection plan.
A fall rescue plan (FRP) is a process or procedure for safely retrieving a person who has fallen and is suspended in a safety harness or on a lanyard. Rescue can be assisted by the person who has fallen, or mechanically assisted by the use of lifts or other equipment. The plan must be documented and should be site specific.
FPPs analyze fall hazards on each job site and describe the appropriate methods and equipment to prevent dangers. Fall protection methods and equipment may include the use of scaffolding, lanyards, harnesses, etc.
Each jobsite must have a specific FPP and FRP for the work that will be performed at that location. Sites have different characteristics that require a specific plan for each one. A comprehensive plan can serve as the backbone for these site-specific FPPs and FRPs.
When is a Fall Rescue Plan Required?
The Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) requires a site-specific fall protection plan when workers are working above the ground. The minimum height that a worker can work without fall protection is 6 feet. The plan must include a fall hazard assessment, the methods that will be used to protect workers on the job site, and a fall rescue plan.
According to OSHA 1926.502(d)20: “The employer shall provide for prompt rescue of employees in the event of a fall or shall assure that employees are able to rescue themselves.”
An FRP is required for all contractors working at height on the project when a fall arrest system is being used. The plan must be written and available to every worker on site, and the company must train their employees on the plan and its details. Workers should be fully trained before performing work on the site.
Writing a Fall Rescue Plan
OSHA requires a comprehensive, site-specific plan to both prevent and respond to fall incidents. Each site’s plan will be different depending on the type of work being performed and the protection needed for workers.
The plan should include step-by-step procedures for self-rescue, assisted rescue, and multiperson evacuation at height. Self-rescue occurs when a person has fallen and can actively assist in their own rescue using the equipment at hand. Assisted rescue occurs when a person has fallen and is not able to help in their own rescue, either because they lack the equipment, or they have been rendered unconscious. Multiperson evacuation occurs when there is a danger to several workers and all of them must evacuate from the location at height.
Before writing an FRP, employers should review the regulations that apply to their work activities. To assist in this effort, here is a list of OSHA safety and health standards for construction that apply to FRPs:
- Subpart E, Personal Protective Equipment
- Subpart L, Scaffolding
- Fall Protection, 1926.451(g)
- Subpart M, Fall Protection
- Subpart R, Steel Erection
- Fall Protection, 1926.760
- Subpart V, Power Transmission and Distribution
- Linemen Body Belts, Safety Straps, and Lanyards, 1926.959
- Subpart X, Ladders
- Ladders, 1926.1053
Depending on your company’s location and the type of work you do, you may also be subject to ANSI/ASSE Z359 regulations.
Fall Protection Plan Sections
Contractors that work at height must have a fall protection plan. A fall protection plan is composed of eight sections:
1. Jobsite info
Include information about the job, such as the address and name of the project, as well as contact information for the general contractor, superintendent, and foreman. Include contact info for those trained in first aid and fall rescues.
2. Fall hazard assessment
Perform a job hazard analysis and include information on potential hazards present on the current jobsite. These may include floor holes, window openings, skylights, elevator shafts, etc.
3. Methods and equipment
List and detail the fall arrest or restraint methods and fall protection equipment that will be used on the project. Provide details about the type of equipment, including the manufacturer.
4. Equipment maintenance and inspection
Describe the proper assembly, disassembly, maintenance, and inspection procedures for each piece of equipment being used on the site. Employees should be fully trained on these procedures. Regular inspections are key to keeping equipment in proper use and ensuring that defective equipment is removed.
5. Equipment storage and handling
Detail the proper handling, storage, and securing of the equipment used for fall protection. Employees need to know how to properly store equipment to avoid damage and deterioration.
6. Overhead protection
Describe the overhead protection that is being used to prevent workers from injury from falling debris. Workers should always wear hard hats when there is danger from falling debris, and toe boards keep debris from falling.
7. Rescue plan
Detail your rescue plan in case there is an accident. The plan should include detailed instructions, like who will perform the rescue, where it might happen, the equipment and methods that will be used to perform the rescue, and a process for evaluating the rescue attempt. Include contact information for emergency services and first aid kit locations. Report incidents to OSHA as required.
All employees should be thoroughly trained and certified on the fall protection plan. At each jobsite, each employee should receive additional training on job-specific facets of the plan. No employee should be working on a project until they have completed the site-specific fall protection training.
How to Write a Fall Rescue Plan
Things to do and consider before writing your fall rescue plan:
- Hanging in a harness vertically can cause a person to lose consciousness in just a few minutes.
- Suspension trauma varies from person to person.
- Rescuing a worker from a fall is just as important as preventing a fall.
- Identify the type(s) of system you will use and who will perform the rescue. Consider both internal (specially trained workers) and external options (fire department, other professional rescuers, etc.).
- Identify the locations that are most likely to require a rescue. Use a job hazard analysis or fall hazard survey to determine the locations where rescue could be necessary.
- Identify the required rescue equipment and make sure it is readily available at all times and that workers are trained on its use.
- Determine what rescue methods are best at each location.
- Provide training for all employees on site.
The rescue plan must include the following information:
- Type(s) of rescue systems – This will depend on the type of fall arrest equipment being used as well as the rescue equipment available.
- Location of rescue anchorages and materials – Note where all rescue equipment will be stored. Make sure it is easily accessed when required.
- Attachment to worker’s harness – Show how the rescue equipment properly attaches to a worker’s harness.
- Types of equipment and quantity
- Training – Workers should be trained before beginning work on site, with a review prior to system use.
- Actions for a successful rescue – Describe what each member of the rescue team must do to implement a successful rescue operation.
A fall rescue plan should include the following practices to help prevent or alleviate suspension trauma:
- If self-rescue is impossible, or if rescue cannot be performed promptly, the worker should be trained to “pump” his/her legs frequently to activate the muscles and reduce the risk of venous pooling. Footholds can be used to alleviate pressure, delay symptoms, and provide support for “muscle pumping.”
- Continuous monitoring of the suspended worker for signs and symptoms of orthostatic intolerance and suspension trauma.
- Ensuring that a worker receives standard trauma resuscitation once rescued.
- If the worker is unconscious, keeping the worker’s air passages open and obtaining first aid.
- Monitoring the worker after rescue and ensuring that the worker is evaluated by a health-care professional. The worker should be hospitalized when appropriate. Possible delayed effects, such as kidney failure, which is not unusual in these cases, are difficult to assess on the scene.
Managing a Fall Rescue Plan
Once the site-specific FRP has been written, it is managed throughout the project and changes are made as necessary.
The first step in implementing the FRP is training all employees on its contents. Employees should be familiar with the processes contained in the plan before they begin work on the site. Training should be in depth, so workers have the knowledge they need in case of an incident.
If an incident occurs on site, after the immediate response and rescue, the incident should be evaluated against the FRP. Gather feedback from employees about the effectiveness of the plan and its execution. Answer the following questions:
- What could have prevented the fall?
- What elements of the rescue operation could be improved?
- Did the fall rescue plan fall into place, or were there things that could be improved?
Finally, if any changes need to be made to the plan due to a response to an incident or changing site conditions, it should be updated. Employees should be notified of the changes to the plan and trained on any new processes.
Keeping workers safe on site involves protecting them and planning for incidents. The more planning and training workers get, the better prepared they will be. Developing and implementing a fall rescue plan helps ensure that everyone knows what to do if an incident occurs and how to properly rescue someone if they need it.
Rescue plans should be thorough, but do not necessarily have to be long and complicated. Include the steps to take for rescuing someone who can help in their own rescue, as well as someone who cannot help. Being prepared for as many situations as possible will improve your response to an incident. Make sure all workers are thoroughly trained on all procedures to help ensure safety for all.