Working at Height – How to Develop a Rescue Plan

Rescue plans don’t have to be complex.

Employers should implement a rescue plan that includes procedures for:

  • Preventing prolonged suspension
  • Performing rescue and treatment as quickly as possible
  • Identifying suspension trauma signs and symptoms

Management responsibility for safety needs to give careful consideration to the methodology of rescuing a fallen operative. Such considerations might include:

Dialing 999(911). – Often we think of the word ‘rescue’ as calling 999(911), but calling the local fire brigade does not constitute an effective rescue plan. Response times can be too slow, and not all fire brigades have the capability to rescue from height.

Crane Man Basket – This option has severe limitations, the main one being time. Target time from ‘Man Down’ to being recovered needs to be no more than five to ten minutes maximum. Other restrictions and shortcomings that make this a less than ideal solution are – the crane is out of action for some reason, e.g. it may be:

  • winded-off

  • the driver may be away from the crane

  • rescue by crane is limited to building facades and often is not able to provide access and rescue internal to the structure

  • the crane man basket may be in the wrong location.

Mobile Elevated Working Platforms (M.E.W.P.’s) – This option for rescue can have its limitations such as available access and height restriction as the casualty may be at a height greater than the reach of the M.E.W.P.

Rope Access Rescue – Rope rescue requires a technical competency which demands a high level of training and re-training to acquire and retain this skill set. Given the limited time to complete a rescue, trained rope rescue personnel would need to be on stand-by and within close proximity to any incident. Donning the necessary kit to carry out a rope rescue can also be time consuming given that every minute the casualty is hanging is critical. Perhaps the greatest restriction is that it is a skill to which only a few would, or could be trained.

Third Party Rescue Systems – There are a number of considerations to take into account when considering third part rescue systems. In every consideration TIME is the critical factor. The speed with which the system can be deployed and the rescue carried out is vitally important, as is the SIMPLICITY and EASE of use so that a typical operative can deploy and carry out a rescue after being trained. Remember, whichever methodology you choose, the target time should be to rescue the casualty in under ten minutes.

Planning for Fall Protection must include Rescue – Having a rescue plan is just as important as having a fall protection plan. No site should have one without the other. Just putting together a fall protection program without rescue is only doing half the job. The onus is on the employer to ensure that the suspended operative is rescued quickly. That means ensuring that for anyone who works at height, there is a rescue plan.

Fall protection must include an emergency rescue plan – How will you rescue an operative who has fallen and is suspended in a fall-arrest system? Answering some basic questions can help in developing a rescue plan.

Developing a Rescue Plan – A rescue plan requires answers to the following questions.

If an operatives fall is arrested, can they be rescued in under ten minutes?

How will you know that someone has fallen?

  • Will someone see it happen?

  • Co-workers

  • Other trades

  • Plant personnel

  • Members of the public

What communication systems will be used between the suspended operative and the rescue team?

  • Voice

  • Whistle

  • Mobile Phone

Who will the Co-worker call?

  • Nearest co-workers

  • Supervisor

  • Site Management

  • 999(911) Fire /ambulance where available

Is information available? Who and how will it be communicated?

  • Emergency phone numbers

  • Site address

  • Directions and access for ambulance/fire vehicle or other emergency services

  • Which floor/how high up
  • Operatives condition after fall

How will the safety of the rescuers be assured, as well as that of the suspended operative?

  • Are operatives trained and competent in the use of rescue equipment?

  • Is there sufficient number of trained personnel on-site?

  • Are rescue-training records kept up-to-date including any re-assessments?

  • Is the rescue equipment selected appropriate for the nature of the work?

  • What obstructions are in the way reaching the suspended operative?

  • Have assessments been made of anchor points?

  • Has consideration been given to the method of attaching to the casualty?

How will rescue workers get to the casualty?

  • Rescue Ladder System

  • Rescue Haul / Winch System

  • Keys to building and roof

  • Elevator

  • Pull casualty in through window or balcony

  • Pull casualty up to floor/slab/roof

  • Lower casualty to ground level
  • Climb / rappel down the building/structure

  • Aerial equipment from ground

  • Suspended access equipment

  • Crane Man Basket

How will rescue be assured within five minutes of the occurrence of a fall to minimize the risk of further injury or death due to suspension trauma? And, what rescue equipment is needed?

  • Rescue Ladder

  • Rescue Haul / Winch System

  • Suspended access equipment

  • Ropes

  • Aerial ladder truck

  • M.E.W.P. or scissor lift

  • Climbing / rope rescue equipment

  • Crane Man Basket

  • First aid kit

  • Stretcher available should casualty be seriously injured

What if the operative is injured?

  • Can the casualty still be rescued within five to ten minutes?

  • Is there a qualified first-aid er who understands suspension trauma and knows how to treat it?

  • Who and how will the emergency services and hospital be alerted?

How will the public be protected?

  • Assign someone to direct traffic

  • Set up barriers

How will the accident scene be protected?

  • Prevent further injury or damage

  • Set up barriers

  • Preserve wreckage

  • Aid investigation later

Are there other considerations?

  • Working alone

  • Language barrier

  • Unusual features of building/structure

  • Wind

  • Other hazards

  • No emergency services nearby

  • Distance from rescue teams

WARNING! An operative who has suffered a fall and is suspended in his harness is a true medical emergency. Just because they are hanging in a harness doesn’t mean you have all day to perform the rescue. Rescue has to be planned, practiced and performed quickly and effectively or the victim may very well die before the rescue finally occurs.

If you’re not going to give your employees the skills to perform rescue, then you might as well not even put them in the harness at all.

Practice can save lives Perhaps just as important as having a rescue plan in place is practicing the plan before a real-life fall occurs.

How will the operative call for help?