Suspension Trauma 101

Suspension Trauma 101


One of the fundamental goals of working at heights is to prevent workers from falling. Unfortunately, Canada still has over 12,000 fall-related workplace injuries each year. On the other hand, an arrested fall is considered a success if harm is avoided. And what’s the key to a successful arrested fall, you may ask? Quick intervention, proper protective equipment and training.

Many of you work at heights and know that the right fall protection equipment is vital to safely do your job. But even when your fall arrest system prevents you from falling, you could still be confronted with another potentially dangerous situation: suspension trauma.

What is Suspension Trauma?

Suspension trauma (Orthostatic Intolerance or Harness Hang Syndrome) can occur when a fallen worker is suspended for too long, held upright with limited movement.

When the worker is hung up too long, their harness leg straps may constrict their veins, which traps blood in the legs, reducing the flow of oxygenated blood to their heart, brain, and kidneys.

Unfortunately, the fall protection equipment used to prevent trauma from falling keeps the worker upright, which may not allow proper circulation.

The safety harness

It is crucial to choose the right safety harness and ensure that it is properly maintained and inspected.

To learn more about safety harnesses and their use, 3M and SPI have designed this E-book just for you!

How to reduce risks after a fall? 

There are several steps you can take to reduce the risk of further injury after a fall.

Proper Equipment

Luckily, a simple solution exists to protect workers against suspension trauma: trauma straps.

Trauma straps are a pair of straps, one featuring a hook and the other with a loop for the hook to attach to. They are rolled up in a pouch and attached to the fall harness at the hips.

When a worker falls and is suspended, he uncoils the straps, hooks them together, and braces his weight against the straps. This allows him to stand up in his fall harness, use his leg muscles, and take off the weight from his arteries to restore blood circulation.

Therefore, it’s crucial to have trauma straps on all fall protection harnesses.

What’s 3M™ Fall Protection doing about it?

Suspended workers are at risk of suspension trauma while awaiting rescue unless they have a harness with suspension trauma safety straps to help reduce it. That’s why 3M added this valuable feature to all of their fall protection harnesses.

In partnership with Construction Industry Safety Initiative (CISI), they’re committed to raising awareness of suspension trauma’s critical risks for construction workers.

The 3M™ ExoFit™ harness series provides users with suspension trauma relief straps!

Discover the new line of 3M™ DBI-SALA® ExoFit™ X-Series harnesses

Have a Rescue Plan Ready

Prevention is key. If you work at heights, be sure there’s a current rescue plan in place and that your team is aware of it to ensure a quick rescue.

Proper Training

Every worker at heights should receive proper training on the risks they may be facing and on their PPE to ensure optimal safety:

Fall Protection Training: 

  • How to correctly use a fall protection system
  • What elements could increase a workers’ risk
  • What the rescue procedures are and methods to diminish danger when suspended

Personal Protective Equipment Training:

  • When and what to wear for protection at heights
  • How to properly wear personal protective equipment
  • How to care, maintain, and ensure compliance with PPE
  • How to make sure your PPE performs as intended

If you ever find yourself in this situation, here are some preventative actions to take to avoid injury:

  • Immediately call or signal for help
  • Try to stay calm and take regular deep breaths
  • Try adopting a sitting position if possible
  • Try using your legs to push off from a hard surface to keep your muscles active
  • Try moving into a horizontal position as much as you can
  • Try pumping and moving your legs frequently to maintain blood flow

After the rescue is performed, what should be done?

  • If suspension trauma is suspected, the worker should be kept sitting or standing for 30 minutes.
  • It is necessary to remove the harness to promote blood flow.
  • If the worker has been suspended for more than 30 minutes, they should not be placed in a horizontal position immediately. This would result in a reperfusion syndrome that could be fatal to the individual. Therefore, the worker should be kept in a semi-recumbent position.

    Working with a safety harness?

    Our new e-book developed in partnership with 3M provides you with everything you need to know about working safely with a harness.

    Download your e-book

    1. OHS Online. Suspension Trauma. (2017, January 01). Retrieved from
    2. OSHA Safety and Health Information Bulletin, SHIB 03-24-2004, updated 2011.
    3. Hsiao, H; Turner, N; Whisler, R; Zwiener, J. “Impact of Harness Fit on Suspension Tolerance,” Human Factors, June 2012.
    4. OSHA Safety and Health Information Bulletin, SHIB 03-24-2004, updated 2011.
    5. Raynovich, W. “Dangerous Suspension: Understanding suspension syndrome & prehospital treatment for those at risk,” Journal of Emergency Medical Services, Volume 32, Issue 8.
    6. CSA Z259.10-18, Annex B.4 g