Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Fall Arrest for Arborists

Falls from height are the single biggest cause of workplace deaths and one of the main causes of major injury, this applies across all industries. By nature of the work, arborists often have to climb to high points and unlike the construction industry often it is difficult or impossible to use working platforms or scaffolding.

Therefore the most practical way of ensuring safety is the use of personal fall protection equipment i.e. a fall arrest harness, for example the Komet Miller Dragonfly and Butterfly II harnesses on the Granite Website in the Forestry Tools & Accessories section.

The regulations applicable to this subject are The Work at Height Regulations 2005 (as amended) obtainable from the Health and Safety Executive.

Fall arrest systems are designed to limit the impact force of a fall and ensure that the user cannot hit the ground. The anchor point must be as high as possible above the feet of the user thereby limiting the distance that they can fall.

Of course the anchor point must be strong enough to hold the impact force of the faller, taking into account the distance and the weight of the person. Always check the condition of the tree and suitability of anchor points before committing life and limb.

There are a number of actions that must be taken when using this type of equipment as explained below.

Risk Assessment

Work at height must be properly planned and organised and should take into account weather conditions, all personnel must have received appropriate training and be competent and healthy.

They should also have read the manufacturers product information literature.

Wherever possible try to minimise the height from which a person can fall and be fully aware of the consequences if they do fall.

All the work must be supervised, never carried out alone.

Selection and maintenance of equipment

The equipment being used must be suitable for the task being carried out, within the design limits. It must comply with BS EN 361 for a full body harness. All components being used must be compatible with each other.

All equipment must be checked even when new and then before each use to ensure that it operates correctly and that it is in good condition. The checks should be both tactile and visual, passing the equipment slowly through the hands to feel for cuts, abrasion or any contaminants as well as softening or hardening of the fibres. Ensure that the visual checks are carried out in good light conditions, also do not hurry these checks, your life may depend on it...

In addition to the pre-use checks a more comprehensive check should be carried out by a trained and competent person on a regular schedule and these checks should be documented. Particular attention is required where the equipment can come into contact with acids or alkalis.

Any damaged equipment must be taken out of operation immediately, even small cuts or abrasions will have a serious effect on the performance.

If the equipment has become wet in use it must be dried thoroughly before storing it in clean dry conditions.

Action to be taken in case of a fall

This topic was covered in the article Aerial Tree Rescue published on 9th November 2009 but we feel that it is important to bring attention to the risk of Suspension Trauma which is little understood by most people even though it has been known about for quite a few years.

It is a natural reaction in the body to being held in an upright position with immobilised legs. Normally the use of leg muscles helps to return blood to the heart, if the legs are immobilised which would be the case in using a fall arrest harness, this process starts to fail and blood starts to pool in the legs, this causes the brain to receive less blood and starts to be starved of oxygen. Loss of consciousness can occur in less than 6 minutes. Research has suggested that death can occur in as little as 10 minutes. If the fall has been caused by a trauma like a bad cut or a head injury then this timescale can be more rapid.

Suspension is therefore a life threatening situation and urgent rescue is needed within 10 minutes. However when the accident victim is rescued certain things have to be considered.The blood that has pooled in the legs contains toxins, which if released into the circulation could damage internal organs and in extreme cases stop the heart from beating. This is known as Reflow Syndrome and traditional first aid techniques could be fatal in this case. Casualties must not be laid flat at any time in the rescue or when on the ground. The casualty should be kept in a sitting position with their legs either straight out or pulled up to the chest for a minimum of half an hour even if they are unconscious.

It is important that all workers know of the dangers of the risks of Suspension Trauma and the correct techniques for handling it, anybody who has been suspended for more that 3 minutes should be treated as if they have it.

Of course prevention is always better than cure and all measures to reduce the risk of falling should be employed wherever possible, including regular breaks to reduce fatigue and the use of the correct protective clothing to reduce heat stress.

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