Are You Rescue Ready or Need Rescuing?

Written by Stefan Bright
IWCA Safety Director

The Need for Rescue Plans

Do you have a safety plan?

Imagine if you were on a jobsite and your or your co-worker was in full fall arrest hanging on the side of a building in your harness . . . What now?

Workers face considerable danger hanging in their harness after a fall. This danger is even higher in the absence of a well thought-out, detailed and fully implemented rescue plan. The best rescue strategy is to take every possible precaution to prevent the worker from falling in the first place.

But the reality is that falls may still happen, and a rescue plan is an essential component of any organization that uses fall arrest systems. The lack of a formal pre-conceived post-fall rescue plan not only puts the fall victim at risk but also puts rescuers in harm's way. Whenever there are unplanned attempts to rescue, additional injuries or fatalities may not be uncommon. Being experience in your trade does not necessarily make you a qualified or competent rescuer. That takes a plan and proper training!

A worker 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 there is plenty of time to perform a rescue. Rescue has to be planned, practiced and performed quickly and effectively or the victim may very well die before the rescue finally occurs.

OSHA requires that employers provide for "prompt rescue of employees in the event of a fall or shall assure that employees are able to rescue themselves." This should include identifying rescue procedures that address the potential for orthostatic intolerance and suspension trauma. Rescue procedures also should address how the rescued worker will be handled to avoid any post-rescue injuries.

The reason this is so important is the suspended worker is at risk of orthostatic intolerance and suspension trauma which can quickly become a life-threatening emergency. To better understand this condition the following bulletin clearly outlines the stages and symptoms.

Rescue plans do not have to be complex, but should decisive, thorough, practiced and performed by competent rescuers. Rescue plans will include procedures for:
  • Handling various fall scenarios and fallen worker conditions
  • Preventing the rescuer from also becoming a victim
  • Preventing prolonged suspension and the likelihood of suspension trauma
  • Performing rescue and treatment as quickly as possible
  • Identifying orthostatic intolerance signs and symptoms

Management's reasonability for safety needs to consider carefully the methodology of rescuing a fallen operative. How you perform your work will also impact the methodology such as rope descent systems or suspended scaffold systems.


Self-Rescue when done quickly and properly is the most effective type of rescue and will avoid suspension trauma. If a worker is not injured and is trained on how to transfer weight to relieve the pressure from their harness as well utilize a secondary line with the proper descent equipment they are more likely to do so in a relatively short period of time and avoid additional injury or trauma. Also, no other workers are in harms way attempting to rescue the suspended worker.

Sometimes a rescue is needed when there is not a fall but rather an equipment or line failure and the workers is stuck in position. Is the worker able to rescue themselves? Perhaps extra equipment onsite or on the worker such as a self-rescue kit will be sufficient. Or perhaps deployment and use of a backup system will be used in the event of a line or equipment failure. Supply the worker with a foot strap, or knowledge of how to make a loop for their foot from their rope as well as utilization of a backup descent mechanism. Remember, workers must be trained on how to utilize that extra equipment to reach safety. If self-rescue is not able to be done, then assisted or partner rescue will need to take place.

Dialing 911

It is often thought that the word 'rescue' means calling 911. While it is good to do so for additional assistance and treatment of a fallen worker calling the Local Area Fire & Rescue Service does not constitute an effective rescue plan. By the time they arrive and get to the worker too much time may have elapsed, and suspension trauma may already be present.

Aerial Lift

This option for rescue can have its limitations such as available access and height restriction as the worker may be at a height greater than the reach of the Aerial Lift.

Aerial Lift Safety

Rope Rescue

Assisted or partner rescue is a form of rope rescue that 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 onsite or near the incident. Workers who are trained in performing their job duties using rope access or rope descent systems should also be fully trained in self and assisted rope rescue. Using the necessary kit to carry out a rope rescue can also be time consuming given that every minute the casualty is hanging is critical. That is why it is crucial to have your rescue kit onsite.


Whichever methodology is chosen, the target time should be to rescue the suspended worker as soon as possible. Symptoms of suspense trauma can start in as little as five minutes. A worker can quickly become unconscious from orthostatic intolerance and their condition move to critical and life threatening a few minutes after.

Keep reading below

Fall Protection Plans Include Rescue Plans

Having a rescue plan is just as important as having a fall protection plan. No site should have one without the other. Implementing a fall protection program without a rescue plan is only doing half the job.

Rescue Plan Elements

Every companies rescue plan will be different. Like we said before it does not need to be complex, but it does need to be decisive, thorough and practiced to near perfection. Asking yourself a few basic questions and exploring certain topics can help your organization in developing a rescue plan.

    • What is the goal of your plan?
    • Are you and your workers prepared to respond to a fall incident?
    • Is hazard analysis done and a written work plan in place to prevent falls & respond to them?
    • How does the plan help to identify, prevent or treat suspension trauma?

      • Who, where & when does this plan apply?

        • Defined scope and meaning of terms or key concepts
        • Organized structure, clear and easy to understand

          • What is the roles and responsibilities for the employer, employee and rescuer?

          • EQUIPMENT
            • What equipment is needed?
            • How frequently should you be Inspecting equipment?
            • Where is the rescue kits & equipment located?
            • Individual equipment vs. site equipment
            • Communication tools you will use
            • Accident scene control
            • Nearest First Aid kit & AED

            • PROCEDURE
              • Communication
                • Notification a rescue needs to occur
                • Between the suspended worker and rescuer
                • Protocol post incident (911, Site Supervisor, Management, Customer)
                • Unconscious, unreachable or unresponsive worker
                • Logistics (Address, directions for access, floor/side of building)
                • Worker's condition after fall to first responders
              • Rescue of Suspended Worker
                • Is there sufficient number of trained personnel onsite to perform the rescue
                • Can the rescuer safely proceed based on site conditions?
                • Hierarchy of rescue methodology (Self, Assisted/Partner, Fire/Rescue)
                • Specific steps to perform rescue
                • Post Incident Procedures
                  • How will other personnel be protected?
                  • How will the accident scene be protected to aid in investigation later?
                  • What is the procedure for post fall investigation and future prevention?
                  • Are there other considerations?

                  • TRAINING & EVALUATION
                    • Are workers trained and competent in the use of rescue equipment?
                    • Frequency and type of training conducted
                    • Multiple scenario training
                    • Anchor and site assessment pre-rescue
                    • Record of training
                    • Competency evaluations (hands on & in writing)
                    • First Aid (emphasis on suspension trauma)

Plan for suspension trauma

Practice can save lives

It is just as important to have a rescue plan as it is to practice the plan before a real-life incident occurs. Rescue procedures must be in place and practiced on a regular basis to ensure competence and maintain records. Do you remember the fire drills in school when you were a child? They occurred so frequently you could practically do it in your sleep or without much thought at all. It was like second nature. History has shown that in the event of an emergency panic and uncertainty can set in. Poor decisions can be made in haste or in fear. That is less likely to occur if your company has a plan and the staff is properly trained and competent to properly execute the rescue plan. Lives could literally be hanging in the balance so start working on your rescue plan today!

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