Suspension Trauma in Tower Workers

Source: Benoit Daoust/123RF

Proper rescue planning for suspension trauma incidents at tower sites is the focus of a new video from NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association.

According to OSHA, suspension trauma, or orthostatic intolerance, may be defined as “the development of symptoms such as light-headedness, palpitations, tremulousness, poor concentration, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, headache, sweating, weakness and occasionally fainting during upright standing”

While in a sedentary position, blood can accumulate in the veins, which is commonly called “venous pooling,” and cause orthostatic intolerance.

Orthostatic intolerance also can occur when an individual moves suddenly after being sedentary for a long time. For example, a person may experience orthostatic intolerance when they stand up quickly after sitting still for a long time.

A well-known example of orthostatic intolerance is that of a soldier who faints while standing at attention for a long period of time. The moment the soldier loses consciousness, he or she collapses into a horizontal position. With the legs, heart, and brain on the same level, blood is returned to the heart.

Assuming no injuries are caused during the collapse, the individual will quickly regain consciousness and recovery is likely to be rapid.

Venous pooling typically occurs in the legs due to the force of gravity and a lack of movement. Some venous pooling occurs naturally when a person is standing. In the veins, blood normally is moved back to the heart through one-way valves using the normal muscular action associated with limb movement.

If the legs are immobile, then these “muscle pumps” do not operate effectively, and blood can accumulate. Since veins can expand, a large volume of blood may accumulate in the veins.

Once a climber suffering from suspension trauma is lowered to the ground, employers or workers should call 911 and lay the individual flat to stabilize him or her.

Then, if the climber is unconscious, place the patient on his or her left side to reduce vomiting, and wait for help to arrive.

OSHA recommends the following general practices/considerations:

  • Rescue suspended workers as quickly as possible;
  • Be aware that suspended workers are at risk of orthostatic intolerance and suspension trauma;
  • Be aware of signs and symptoms of orthostatic intolerance;
  • Be aware that orthostatic intolerance is potentially life-threatening. Suspended workers with head injuries or who are unconscious are particularly at risk; and
  • Be aware of factors that can increase the risk of suspension trauma.

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