SAFETY BLOG

An ongoing series of informative entries

Rescue Planning.

 Why “Dial 999 or 112” should never be the sole procedure

10 Sept 2020

“Public emergency services are in place to serve the public.”

This isn’t to say we can not involve them, but we must understand the pressure we place onto them if we expect them to turn up and work miracles for something which could have been planned for.

For work at height which could involve a person suspended in a harness, response time is critical!!! A motionless person suspended in a harness will die if not rescued swiftly.

For more information on suspension syncope (also known as Harness trauma or suspension intolerance) see our section on Harnesses – fatal life savers.

We all have a duty of care to one another in pursuit of keeping worksites safe. After all, we have become familiar with the need to have risk assessments, and designated staff members as first aiders or fire wardens. But does your work place have in place procedures to deal with a worker incapacitated at height? 

   (Either at, above or below ground)

“In the event of injury or sudden illness, failure to provide first aid could result in a casualty’s death. The employer should ensure that an employee who is injured or taken ill at work receives immediate attention” - The Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981* - require employers to provide adequate and appropriate equipment, facilities and personnel to ensure their employees receive immediate attention if they are injured or taken ill at work. These Regulations apply to all workplaces including those with less than five employees and to the self-employed.

 ( *Source https://www.hse.gov.uk/firstaid/legislation.htm )


All around the globe Ambulance crews, EMT’s, Paramedics are working extremely hard to meet the demands put upon them to serve members of the public in need of medical assistance.

Response times for Ambulances set by the UK government range between 7 minutes, which is no easy task, up to 3 hours for an ambulance to arrive on scene*.

This is for category one patients with life treating conditions. Less severe conditions are triaged to a longer response time which could mean a wait of an hour or more depending on local demand at the time of the call.

The Addendum to the NHS Constitution requires all ambulance trusts to:

• Respond to Category 1 (Life-threatening) calls in 7 minutes on average, and respond to 90% of Category 1 calls in 15 minutes.

• Respond to Category 2 (Emergency) calls in 18 minutes on average, and respond to 90% of Category 2 calls in 40 minutes.

• Respond to 90% of Category 3 (Urgent) calls in 120 minutes.

• Respond to 90% of Category 4 (Non-urgent) calls in 180 minutes.

(*Source :https://www.nuffieldtrust.org.uk/resource/ambulance-response-times - correct at time of writing)


Then once on scene, the situation is complicated by how will the patient who is at height get treatment form medics on the ground? Remember our casualty, the one hanging in their harness with potentially fatal consequences? Well, they’re still there waiting for help, which isn't doing them any favours with each minute that passes. 

(See  Harnesses – fatal life savers)

If the rescue plan just states “Dial 999” the caller may have requested the fire service in the hope that their ladders reach to the casualty. (Fire crews in some areas are equipped for “line rescue” but not all Fire appliances will carry specialist equipment, and there is always the remote possibility it is being utilised to rescue someone else, somewhere else at the same time you planned to work at height.) Fire appliance ladders will have a limit to there extension. Rescue situations have occurred in the UK where Her Majesty’s Coastguard have been called to airlift to safety those stuck at height using Search and Rescue helicopters, this being the most suitable plan available to the emergency services for the circumstances.

When we start to look at other factors like “Could a 26 tonne Fire engine get near enough to the worksite to be effective?” we can begin to appreciate the need to have a thoroughly planned rescue procedure in place, before we commence work at height tasks.

So what is the solution?

Naturally, you may be expecting us to say contact us  and arrange for us to be at your disposal 24/7. Truth is, reality just isn’t that straight forward. Neither is it your only option. There is always the option to train certain individuals in your organisation in rescue techniques and give them the resources to complete a pre planned rescue procedure. 

There are also other companies, based right here in the UK, (look ‘em up, one might be round the corner from where you need?) which offer similar services to ours for private companies to ease demand on public services, as part of their rescue plan.

So why do the HSE’s statistics look like they do?

 < https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causinj/kinds-of-accident.pdf >

  • Is it lack of training? 
  • Is it lack of specialist equipment for rescue? 
  • Is it ignorance? 
  • Is it cost? 
  • Is it a “nothin’ bad gonna happen to me” attitude? 

None of which are valid reasons in the aftermath of a tragedy!

The HSE website is a good source of information for all work related hazards, from AALA - Zoonoses and everything in between.

Including the working at height regulations2005

https://www.hse.gov.uk/work-at-height/links.htm 

(enforced by law under the Health & Safety at work act of parliament 1974) which state clearly that all work at height must be;

• Pre – Planned.

• Supervised as safe.

• With suitable and adequate provisions for emergencies.

(Reference in paragraph 1 to planning of work, includes planning for emergencies and rescue.)

In depth details at https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2005/735/contents


Stay safe…...Don’t leave it to chance….Don’t become a statistic…...

Thank you for reading!*


*this article is dedicated to the hard working individuals form all emergency services everywhere. Thank you for your commitment to assisting anyone and everyone who needs help.

Harnesses – Fatal Lifesavers 

“a lighthearted look at a life or death situation”

10 Sept 2020

Lets start with the very basics & build from there….


So, your working at height and your wearing a harness – great! 

 What’s it going to do should you fall?

Time and time again we hear the instruction “Make sure your clipped on!!!” 

But clipped to what? 

  •  Thin air?
  •  Back to my own harness? 
  •  Some random piece of flimsy whatever so it looks like I’m safe?

Surely the right answer will be written in the pre planned method statement detailing the appropriate anchorages, right? It should be, along with the pre planned rescue procedure. ( See rescue planning )


Lets assume all is well and we’re attached to a suitable anchorage meeting EN795 standards which itself is attached to something unquestionably reliable.

Everything is starting to come together, we have our harnesses on and we’re connect to a suitable anchorage. 


But what about that bit in the middle, the thing that connects the harness to the anchorage? 


 After all, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.


This weak link is a common failure in planning. It must be a suitable lanyard of the correct type – or the result could be a fatal case of death.

Lanyard requirements will most likely be decided by the type of work-at-height being undertaken.   Essentially a variation of one-of-three methods of operation. Or modus operandi if you feel like talking all fancy.

  • Work restraint – held back from danger, similar to a dog walking on a short lead. - Safest method.
  • Work positioning – held into place when at height and backed up by a fall arrest system. - Safe for suitably trained operatives, backed up to a fall arrest system should the primary suspension equipment fail.
  • Fall arrest – Bad times. We’ve planned the job and assessed the risks, no method exists to prevent us from falling? If we’re using fall arrest equipment then this what we’re saying, can’t stop a fall so we gotta arrest a fall. Hopefully minimising any consequence of that fall in the process. Use extreme caution when working in fall arrest.

Lanyards are going to be made either with an energy absorber (EN355) or made without (EN354).  (More information can be found by checking with the equipment manufacturer.)


Now we’re getting somewhere. 

Somewhere near the reason you started reading this, 

“is my harness going to save me, or kill me?”


It’s a common misconception for some folk that the sole purpose of using a harness when working at height, is to stop the ground rushing upwards and smacking them one when they least expect it.   While none of us want an unexpected journey to the floor at terminal velocity, this is only partly true as more reasons exist regarding the benefits of using a harness.  With other factors to consider for their safe use, rather than just connect up to the big heavy thing that won’t move if we pull on it. 


Ever heard the saying “not the fall that kills you, it’ll be the sudden stop!” ??? 

There’s an element of truth to this statement as if falling did kill us, we’d not get the opportunity to pull the parachute cord after jumping from the aeroplane. 


 So lets focus on the second half of that statement; the sudden stop. This is where we start to see how serious problems are predicted if we don’t use a harness properly.

When we stop in an instant via impact into something solid our inside parts are still moving when the outside parts are motionless. 

There isn’t a requirement to be a doctor of anatomy to realise this rapid rearrangement of our organs is bad news for getting home in time for dinner.


Stopping too quickly equals serious injury or worse, got it! 

So how do I slow down? 


Lots of ways really; air bags, safety nets, big pile of cardboard boxes.   But we’re talking about harnesses for now.  There’s always the option of using a constant rate descender if the conditions are right for it. 

(If your not familiar with a constant rate descender, it’s a device you anchor above you that retracts as you ascend and lowers you slowly if you slip and fall off.)  

A great option if available but lets look at the differences between lanyards; the type without energy absorption and the type designed to ease the pain a bit and remove some stresses of the system.

EN354 lanyards are not produced with any form of energy absorber.  All the energy created during a fall has nowhere within the system where it can be absorbed and reduced.  All the energy is distributed throughout the system, placing excess stresses on the anchor, connectors, and the human in the harness to the point of failure.  If the anchor, connector, or lanyard doesn’t fail then the human on the end will, as all the energy will be absorbed by the softest element in the system, US!


We’re still stopping too quickly and need to absorb the energy built up. 

Obvious answer; use an energy absorbing lanyard (EN355) Using this type of lanyard should reduce the loading on the whole system, including the human on the end. 

The maximum dynamic force tolerable to the average human body is considered to be 6Kn. 

Don’t get me wrong, this will still be very painful and the system used should keep forces well below the 6Kn limit.


The job’s been planned including the rescue plan ( See Rescue Planning ) and all the suitable equipment is being used to reduced the forces generated in a fall.  

Even after all this planning and considerations taken into account our worker in the harness is still not immune to the cold touch of the grim reaper.


We’ll assume that our fallen worker fell into clear space, not hitting themselves on the way down causing further injury.  Simply being suspended in a harness will be painful enough.  Anybody who regularly sits in a harness for work will confirm this, as your comfort seat (bosun's chair) can become your best friend.


Hanging in a harness causes a restriction in blood flow as the body presses against the webbing, pushing the veins closed. Easy to overcome if conscious, not so if unconscious.

Put into simple terms, our hearts pump blood to our bodies via Arteries, and our bodies return blood back to our hearts via our veins using capillary action. 

The movement of our limbs gets the blood moving back by pulsing of the muscles. 

If we happen to be conscious when hanging in our harness, we can move about and relive the pressure caused by the webbing.  This will allow the blood to pass the restriction, reducing the numbness, and keep the blood flowing. Just not as well as before the fall, help is still needed and needed soon. 

This is why there has to be suitable and adequate rescue planning, swiftly completed before the onset of suspension syncope from a loss of consciousness.


Suspension syncope is a very serious condition with potentially fatal consequences.

 Over the years there have been differences in the name of this condition; harness intolerance, suspension trauma, and variations of similar sounding titles. 


Details from a medical perspective about the complications of suspension syncope can be found here > https://www.hse.gov.uk/research/rrpdf/rr708.pdf< but put simply, what happens to us is a modern day version of a crucifixion. Think about the similarities: 

  • Neither one allows us to lay flat, 
  • both keep the body upright and motionless, 
  • and in each situation we would be unable to stop the effects of gravity on our cardiovascular system without help from someone else. 

The Romans used as a form of mass execution, but its origins date back way before the use of crosses were thought of.

To begin with, victims were hung from a tree with their feet dangling.


 Sounds awfully similar to our casualty hanging in their harness doesn't it? 

So how do we get them down?   Well the answer to that is going to depend on the unique situation of your worksite, and the established method to be documented in the planning of the works. We offer consultancy to aid you in developing your plans, in addition to Technical rope rescue and safety cover < here > if needed for the safety of your workforce and to ease the pressure on public emergency services. 

 After reading this, it is hoped that we now have a better understanding of the dangers we face, and the need for quick deployment when it comes to making arrangements for rescue.  Just putting “Dial 999” and relying solely on public services is not going to do our workers any favours when they need help after a fall in their harness.

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