What is Suspension Trauma?

Suspension trauma (orthostatic intolerance) is a health risk which only started to achieve solid recognition in the 1970’s. It is now gaining understanding as potentially causing fatalities and serious injury to those people who are suspended in a safety harness whilst immobile for periods of time. These periods can be as short as ten minutes.

The subject comes under various names:

  • suspension trauma / suspension intolerance
  • orthostatic intolerance
  • harness hang syndrome
  • harness induced pathology
  • orthostatic shock while suspended

 

Related and / or potential symptoms / injuries include:

  • cardiac arrest
  • renal failure
  • rhabdomyolosis
  • hypoxia
  • syncope
  • reflow syndrome
  • and others
Dorsal fall arrest suspension

Those of you who work from heights or are climbing enthusiasts are exposed. Both of you may experience a fall arrest in your safety harness. That safety harness is designed to save you from falling to your death. However, the fact that you are now suspended turns that safety harness into a potential death trap itself. This is particularly so if you are in a vertical position and immobile. The risk of death or serious injury increases the longer you are suspended.

The medical world has popularised two different treatment methods post rescue. This lack of consistency indicates that further research is needed to gain a full understanding of Suspension Trauma.

The video below has been produced by the City of Henderson Fire Department. It is one of the most comprehensive educational videos we have found to date. At the same time it provides an easily understood explanation of terms not commonly used by safety harness users.

There are various schools of thought related to suspension trauma. Most people involved in industries and recreation related to its potential threat take note of the significant evidence slowly being catalogued. So much so that government health organisations now go to major efforts to educate those at risk. This is further driven home by much education being directed at the responsibility of employers in carrying out their duty of care to employees and contractors. The acknowledgement of the risk in international standards for fall arrest harness design is also becoming the norm.

 

How can we reduce the risk of suspension trauma / suspension intolerance?

SAS Safety Systems has developed and patented the H.A.L.O. neck and back support device. This allows harness design to be turned on its head and provides an extremely logical alternative to current harness thought process. It also introduces the ability to protect a fall arrest victim who is unconscious or incapacitated in any way which stops them from deploying suspension trauma straps or other rescue devices. Click here to be directed to information on H.A.L.O.