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How to Develop a Working at Height Rescue Plan

Working at heights is inherently dangerous, which is why having a proper working at heigh rescue plan is so important for your organization.

Sam Myers

According to data from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), falls caused 37% of all construction deaths in 2021.  

Having proper fall protection procedures is great, and they can help you prevent many potential risks. But does your facility have a rescue plan in place? 

While it may seem over the top, even workers who follow proper protocol can still find themselves in freak accidents.  

If workers are not rescued in time, symptoms from suspension trauma can set in in as little as three minutes, increasing their chances of severe injury or death.  

So, you’ve identified that you need a working at height rescue plan, or you need to update your existing one. To help you create the right one for your organization, this article will answer crucial questions, such as:  

What is Suspension Trauma?  

Working construction at height and experiencing a fall from height incident

According to the National Institute of Health, suspension trauma (also called harness-induced pathology) is: 

The development of presyncopal symptoms and loss of consciousness if the human body is held motionless in a vertical position for a period of time.” 

When a worker falls and is suspended, the harness becomes a tourniquet to your femoral artery, cutting off circulation.  

Many falling workers can experience venous pooling, which is where their leg veins are not allowing blood to flow back to your heart. This causes blood to collect in your legs, resulting in intense swelling and discomfort.  

In many cases, the worker will pass out from the impact and go into shock. Falling workers can also develop blood clots when hanging suspended in a harness, which can travel to your lungs and/or brain, causing a pulmonary embolism or a stroke.  

They can also suffer from cardiac arrest or brain damage. Or even worse, death, which is where a rescue plan is crucial.

Hierarchy of Fall Protection Infographic

What is a Rescue Plan? 

Not only is having a rescue plan an industry best practice, but it’s also an OSHA requirement.  

According to OSHA 1926.502(d)(20), it states:  

The employer shall provide for prompt rescue of employees in the event of a fall or shall assure that employees are able to rescue themselves.” 

Working at heights is inherently dangerous, which is why you should always prepare for the worst.  

How Do You Develop a Working at Height Rescue Plan?  

So, how do you establish the proper rescue plan at your facility?   

When building out your facility’s fall protection rescue plan, make sure you:

  • Understand how, where, and what type of work is being completed
  • Know what fall protection gear is being used
  • Have properly inspected fall protection gear that’s easy to reach
  • Document information about the length of your fall arrest system. This also needs to take into account the height of the employee
  • Have an updated emergency contact list
  • Designate someone to call 911
  • Know where the rescue equipment is located and if it’s in proper working order
  • Document that equipment will be available immediately should a fall occur
  • Know how many people will be needed for the rescue and if they’re in close proximity
  • Understand how to quickly notify people that a rescue is needed
  • Document how communication will occur between a suspended worker and the rescue team
  • Document if there is anything that could obstruct a rescue
  • Form a step-by-step procedure for a self-rescue and assisted rescue plan
  • Document how rescue personnel will be kept safe during a rescue

Are You Willing to Revisit Your Training?  

Training shouldn’t be seen as something to check off your to-do list once a year. Instead, it should be ingrained in your organization’s culture.  

Whether it’s a 30-year vet, or a new hire 30 days into the job, revisiting your rescue plan will keep everyone on your site prepared when their help is needed.  

What are the Five Tips for Having a Proper Rescue Plan?  

Tips for having a proper working at height rescue plan


If your rescue plan isn’t documented, it doesn’t exist. Documenting your rescue plan—and periodically reviewing it—will make it easy for any worker to stay informed on best practices.  

Making it accessible is just as important as documenting it, too. Whether it’s online, on a bulletin board, or both, keep it in a place where workers can easily find it.  

Rehearse Your Plan  

Practice makes perfect. When an emergency hits your job site, every second counts, and there’s no room for delays.  

You don’t want your team fumbling around trying to figure out what they should do. You also don’t want anyone to panic or get hurt while they attempt a rescue. Practice how you will perform your rescue plan from a safe level. Drill it frequently. 

Your team should be well-trained in every part of the rescue process. To help with this, alternate roles so everyone knows every step of the process.

Also, OSHA 1926.503 requires that a competent and qualified person shall train all employees exposed to fall hazards. Make sure you identify who that qualified person is at your facility.

Keep Your Rescue Plan Simple 

Keep your rescue plan as simple as possible. One, this makes it easy to pull off and understand. Two, there is hopefully less that can go wrong. When workers are in a stressful scenario like this, the less steps they have to follow, the better. 

Each job site is unique and will need its own plan. Your plan can be as simple as grabbing a ladder or scissor lift, or your facility might need a 12-step process.  

If using a lift to rescue a worker who has fallen, make sure there is a second fall protection device available for the fallen worker. Remember that any equipment used in a fall must be removed from service. 

Maintain Circulation 

Finding ways to relieve the pressure from that femoral artery and maintain circulation is crucial. One way to do this is to buy a harness with trauma relief straps or to buy trauma relief straps and attach them to your harness.  

These are straps that allow you to stand in them and relieve some of that pressure from your legs.  

Even if you don’t have trauma relief straps, moving your legs can help. Is there a portable ladder or rope ladder that can be used to help the fallen worker relieve pressure?  

Furthermore, make sure you have someone assigned to call 911 as soon as the fall occurs. That way, once your employee is safely on the ground, emergency services can take action.   

Be Prepared to Change Your Plan 

The old saying goes: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”  

It applies perfectly to your rescue plan. When constructing your strategy, plan on making mistakes. Humans are not perfect, and your plan should reflect that. 

Make sure your workers are:  

  • Practicing things going wrong so they can react to it 
  • Trained to work at height 
  • Trained on the rescue plan 
  • Actively participating in mock drills 

Leave nothing to chance. Properly trained workers will be able to improvise and adapt when needed, making them confident when a rescue is needed.

Bonus Tip: Do NOT Work at Height 

The first thing you should ask yourself is, “Does this job need to be done at height?” Remember your hierarchy of controls

If there is a way to do it from the ground, do that. Remember, the most effective way to reduce falls is to remove the hazard completely. 

How Can You Improve Your Working at Height Rescue Plan?

Mazzella Fall Protection Products and Services

Using and inspecting your fall protection gear is only half the battle. Building out a comprehensive working at height rescue plan, keeping it simple, and consistently reviewing it with your workers will prepare them for when the opportunity arises. 

Hopefully, these tips will help your facility develop a thorough fall rescue plan.  

If you are looking for more information on fall protection, we have tons of content in our Learning Center, including our:  

If you want to discuss fall protection solutions with someone, reach out to one of our experts today. 

Contact a Mazzella specialist today to learn more, order products, or schedule services.

Copyright 2024. Mazzella Companies.

Disclaimer: Any advice, graphics, images, and/or information contained herein are presented for general educational and information purposes and to increase overall safety awareness. It is not intended to be legal, medical, or other expert advice or services, and should not be used in place of consultation with appropriate industry professionals. The information herein should not be considered exhaustive and the user should seek the advice of appropriate professionals.