Who should be responsible for rescuing fallen workers?

Q:

Who should be responsible for rescuing fallen workers?

A:

A quick review of current legislation and best practices will reveal that there is no consensus regarding who should be responsible for rescuing a fallen worker. As with many other occupational health and safety responsibilities, it seems intuitive that "the employer" should be the one responsible – but is it?

Co-workers

OSHA standards says that companies have to prepare (train and equip) the worker for self-rescue or rescue the worker in a prompt and timely manner. So it follows that the employee or their co-workers would be the designated rescuers, the ones responsible for rescuing the fallen worker. (See A Primer on Rescuing Fallen Workers to find out how it's done.)

9-1-1

Some employers think that calling 9-1-1 is an adequate rescue plan, and it seems that OSHA agrees, but only under very specific circumstances.

What these employers fail to understand is that to use 9-1-1 as their rescue plan, they have to follow certain procedures and enter into an agreement with the specific rescue services prior to starting the work at heights. Writing 9-1-1 on their fall protection plan as their rescue would not be enough in the absence of such an agreement. Considering all the above-mentioned conditions satisfied, the emergency services would be responsible for rescuing the fallen worker.

Third Party Rescuers

Lastly, there are third party providers. These are companies that have rescues as their declared scope of work. Third party providers have professional, specialized equipment available at their fingertips and they are highly trained. It's a good option for employers to hire and delegate to them the responsibility to rescue a fallen worker on the worksite.

Regulations

ANSI Z359.2, Minimum Requirements for a Comprehensive Managed Fall Protection Program, spells fairly clearly the roles of those involved with a rescue program.

The defined "competent rescuer" is responsible for developing the rescue procedures for the specific fall hazard identified, ensuring that the authorized rescuers are trained and competent at performing the rescue under the given conditions, and identifying and securing the resources needed for performing the rescue. Any of the parties above, given appropriate training and resources, could be considered a competent rescuer.

According to the same standard, an "authorized rescuer" is the one assisting or performing the rescue under the confines of the rescue plan.

So, it seems that the responsibility for rescuing the fallen worker can be delegated by the employer to any of the above-mentioned parties.

In Canada, a fall protection plan consists of the following elements:

  1. Fall hazards at workplace
  2. Fall protection systems to be used
  3. Anchors to be used (find out How to Choose Your Fall Protection Anchorage)
  4. Confirmation of clearance distances below the work area
  5. Procedures to assemble, maintain, inspect, use, and disassemble the fall protection systems
  6. Rescue procedures

In Canada, by default, rescue is a mandatory component of the fall protection plan and thus the responsibility of the employer. OSHA seems to have different mandated components of the fall protection plan, but rescue is not one of them. At first sight, considering all the comments above, it seems that the responsibility for the rescue is passed to the "authorized rescuer," who might not be a company employee.

But OSHA's general duty clause and the requirement for "prompt rescue" are clearly alluding to the fact that it is the employer responsibility to ensure prompt rescue is in place. It follows that the company has to make the appropriate arrangements, even when hiring a third party. Making the arrangements make you responsible for the functional deployment of the plan, so even if the employer is not responsible for executing the rescue, it is responsible for its outcome.

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Written by Karoly Ban Matei
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Karoly has worked at a senior level (both as an employee and a contractor) for organizations in the construction and manufacturing industries. He has a passion for developing and improving health and safety programs.

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