Safety Advice: Roof Edge Rescue
I have heard from dozens of roofers, carpenters and laborers who've fallen off sloped and flat roof edges and then were "primarily rescued" by their personal fall arrest system (PFAS). In the majority of cases, they were unprepared for the consequences of an arrested fall. Totally unprepared.
Rescue Hazard AnalysisNo matter what the situation may appear to call for, your first item of business is to calm yourself and others nearby on the roof. Take a few long, deep breaths before you even move. Carefully look over the scene on the roof. Check for details. What happened here? Who's fallen? Did they go over the eave or the rake edge? Was anyone else involved?
Be conscious of the rope management on the roof. Entanglements, snarls and foot snares may be waiting just for you. More often than not, would-be rescuers cause themselves to fall and strike the suspended worker below. This can quickly compound the rescue problem. Try not to make matters worse. I have seen those attempting to rescue, disconnect and remove their PFAS because, "It just got in my way."
Your first instinct will be to make your way quickly to the eave and try to help your fallen coworker. Wrong direction. Instead, hustle back up his lifeline to its anchor-point. Inspect the anchorage device and its fasteners carefully. This is important, so take your time. Look for twisted components, cracked welds, torn nylon straps and extracted fasteners. Even if the anchoring device visually appears undamaged, you'd be wise not to trust it to hold. If a backup anchor is not already established, locate and inspect another unused anchoring device and install a second anchorage to a structural location that has not been compromised by the impact forces (often multiple in sequence and vector). Avoid vent pipes, electrical weather heads and other unsubstantial projections.
You're looking for structural integrity capable of resisting over a 2-ton impact. If it was a ridge-mounted anchor strap and D-ring fastened with nails or lag bolts, abandon that portion of ridge as a suitable attachment point. The wood grain is potentially damaged below the deck. If the anchor plate was U-bolted to either the ridge board or a rafter, it may have withstood the approximately 1,800 pounds plus of terminal force. Without visual observation, damage must be assumed.
Confirm that all the rooftop workers are properly wearing their fall protection equipment and do not proceed until everyone is adequately tied-off in a configuration that was properly designed and built by a competent person. By all means, prohibit would-be rescuers from climbing up to the roof. Likewise, avoid overloading the system's rated capacity with unnecessary extra personnel. Time may not be on you side in this procedure, but NEVER proceed in any rescue operation until redundant fall protection is in place.
Professional, technical high/low-angle rope rescue teams consider all of their fall protection "rescue-ready" ONLY after: 1) two sets of eyes and hands have checked ALL the knots, ropes and equipment; 2) all lifelines have been equipped with a backup line; and 3) every anchor point is absolutely "bombproof." There's no sense in more victims falling and taking their rescue victim to the ground with them.
To many of your coworkers, all of this pre-rescue preparation will seem like unnecessary interference, but it's not. They will argue against your efforts. Ignore them.
First Up, Back UpYou may expect two likely failure points in a PFAS involved in an arrested fall: The anchor point and the lifeline. Your next step is to back up the fall victim's impacted lifeline. It probably cannot be trusted. After all, most of the ropes I've seen used for PFAS on a daily basis were close to or well beyond "Out-of-Service" status. Follow the loaded lifeline down from the reinforced anchor point to the short-radius bend of the roof edge. If it is a 5/8-inch diameter twisted nylon lifeline look for cut fibers, shredding bundles, friction and heat burns and abrasions. If it is a sheathed kernmantle 10- to 12-milimeter dynamic rope, check for similar visible damage, but also feel its length for a noticeable "flat spot" where the internal nylon fibers hidden inside the sheath have lost their tubular, braided shape during fall impact. Due to fiber elongation, any roped damage that may have occurred during impact with the sharp roof edge is probably now several feet below the eave.
Until the rope and anchor point have been thoroughly inspected and backed up, the less the fall victim moves the better. Have someone who is not agitated calmly and steadily talk to the suspended worker from the ground or roof edge. Consider them suddenly struck blind, which may lead to agitation and panic. Give them your sight. Clearly and simply explain the events that are occurring above and below them. Assure them progress is being made. He or she may appear totally helpless, but once the backup line is in place, they may then maneuver a few gentle pant-cuff leg lifts. Any leg flexion may postpone the effects of suspension trauma until rescue is complete.
If you have another adequate strength (5,000-pound minimum) anchor point and lifeline, secure them both and run the back-up lifeline down/over to the loaded line at the eave. Add a second "reversed" rope grab upside-down to the lifeline below the eave/edge contact point. If possible, you want to place it below any visibly eave-damaged section of rope. Run the backup line twice through the ring of the rope-grab and back up to the anchor point ring where it may be tied off with a bowline hitch and a keeper (safety) knot. If there isn't sufficient rope length to reach the backup anchor, then you may consider tying a Munter hitch to the reversed rope grab and gathering the tail of the lifeline around an anchorman's waist with a two-handed, grip (with leather gloves) on both the tail and load line as he sits braced on the roof deck against a fixture scaffold plank or slide guard. The anchor line should be as close to the load line as possible to avoid a swing load if a line fails.
Remember, the second lifeline is only a backup should the first line fail under tension at a point of damage. If there is a short slack length in the backup (secondary) line, it should take very little shock load if the primary breaks (slightly more than the victim's weight). The anchorman is redundantly protected by the friction of the Munter hitch on the reversed rope grab. Most of the victim's live load will be suspended by the backup line/anchor. The anchorman may release and catch some line to absorb kinetic energy should the victim slip a foot or two.
If you've detected or suspect any damage to the loaded primary lifeline between the primary anchor and the roof eave/edge, now is the time to deal with it by installing a "snatch" line, or jumper. Even an unintentional overhand knot in the line can be considered dangerous as it may deduct 60 percent of the rope's tensile strength even when new. Install two opposite rope grabs at least 24 inches on either side of the damage. The "uphill" rope-grab will be in standard position while the "downhill" rope-grab will be reversed (upside down). Tie a 4- to 5-foot length of extra lifeline into a loop through both grab rings with either a double fisherman's knot or a double figure eight. Pull both grabs away from each other until the backup loop is taught. Without any additional rope grabs this operation becomes a problematic redundancy. I have a pre-rigged "snatch" in my rescue bag with two rope grabs connected by a 4-foot stitched nylon anchor loop strap (maximum tensile strength 15,000 pounds per foot). In any case, your secure backup safety line is ready should the primary line fail and the victim drop an additional 6-12 inches as the backup stretches out to anchor.
Up to this point, there has been NO attempt at post-fall rescue. Your employer may have determined that rescue procedures are only for a professionally trained, experienced and equipped team controlled and directed by a skilled Incident Commander. Congratulations anyway. What you have accomplished is to rig a back-up lifeline and anchor in the case of a primary line failure. You've also placed a "snatch line" on a damaged section of the primary lifeline. It has only taken two to three minutes if you're trained, drilled and equipped, but it's the most important time the victim has to prevent a second fall.
Three Rescue CategoriesThere are three rescue categories: self-rescue, assisted rescue and technical rescue. The conditioning, training, preparation and tooling-up required to qualify for technical rope rescue is beyond most small or medium contractor's capabilities or even interest. Therefore, your employer has only two optional methods to rescue you promptly. All rescues depend heavily on the strength, endurance, intelligence and leadership of the rescue team. The self-rescue method demands these same qualities of the victim, a one-man rescue team.
Successful post-fall self-rescues are extremely rare events. This is not surprising when you consider the strict limitations of the adrenal gland. Just so much adrenaline is secreted and then, like a nitrous oxide boost to a dragster, the ride's over. Unless those of you witnessing a self-rescue from above or below consider the rescue plan both simple and brief, every effort should be made to convince the victim to remain still and wait until an assisted rescue can be mobilized.
An assisted rescue is often the only reasonable course to take on a construction site. So often the victim has fallen from a structure that is either incomplete or unstable. During an emergency the construction site is inevitably congested with materials, equipment and personnel. The overall communication required in an emergency rescue is all but impossible to achieve. In some locations you may consider yourself fortunate if you have a cell tower signal when you need to call 911. On-scene communication with everyone scrambling to lead and command the operation can be chaotic. Even the person with the necessary skills, training and experience can have a hard time convincing others he is capable. This phase is often called the "rescue storm" and can often consume as much as 50 percent of the rescue time.
Assisted RescueThis article is not intended to provide anyone with any of the skills or procedures necessary to rescue a fallen roofer suspended even one story above grade. It is only my intent to describe the capabilities and criteria commonly included in an employer's roof rescue plan. There is no such event as a simple rescue, but even the uncomplicated rescue is best left to the professionals. However, it is still an obligation of your employer to rescue a fallen worker promptly.
An "assisted rescue" is a procedure initiated by trained personnel when the post-fall victim is conscious as well as physically and mentally able to assist rescuers in his own rescue procedures. These three criteria are each considered deal-breakers. Should the victim lose consciousness or reach what is called "belligerent status" (as a result of excessive pain or panic) the rescue will convert to technical rather than assisted rescue. Whenever possible, the team should withdraw whereupon the incident commander will re-brief and perhaps reassign personnel for a technical rescue.
Assisted rescue can involve simple and/or complicated tasks depending on a large shopping list of conditions and procedures. There are generally two distinct types of assisted rescue plans: ascending or descending. These refer to the transport direction of the victim, rather than the access direction of the rescuer. In some complicated scenarios you may need to descend to a lower level before raising the victim back up to the roof in another location. Rescuers may be expected to be able to either climb up using a ladder, aerial lift, scaffolding or static rescue line with rope ascenders on relay or else rappel or be lowered down on a static rescue line to reach the suspended victim. Any high-angle ascent/descent practices are best taught in a 40-hour rope course after a basic, technical rescue primer offered by professional trainers.
Abort CriteriaKnow when to quit. Rescuers should know their own personal physical/mental limitations. We always determine the "status" of each rescuer by means of a 1 to 10 scale. Whenever the rescuer's status deteriorates to level three or drops three levels quickly, the incident commander or safety officer may cause that rescuer to abort and be replaced. They should know the rescue limit lines as well as their rescue goals and never exceed either one. Whenever any member of your team is in doubt of the conditions or procedures-that should be sufficient criteria to "abort rescue."
There is also a condition known as "rescue stress syndrome" which seriously compromises the safety of a rescuer who has ignored his limit landmarks. If you're under-staffed with three men for the rescue you've practiced with five, you may also consider an "abort." A properly aborted failed rescue is nothing to be ashamed of, but having an injured victim and rescuer is totally unnecessary. If the employer has developed a site-specific PFAS rescue plan for your job, then you should be familiar with its components and be responsible for those roles that you are assigned. Remember the rescue credo: "No one does everything. Everyone does something."
Aerial Work Platform Assisted RescueAscending to a low-level (less than 60 feet) suspension victim may often be achieved by using an aerial work platform such as a telescoping boom lift or scissor lift. The first factor to be considered is liability. The second factor to consider is also liability.
Who owns or rents the equipment and will they authorize its use for an emergency rescue of a possibly injured victim? What are the qualifications of the rescuers to safely operate the lift? Are the personnel capable of performing an elevated rescue without endangering themselves or others? What are the rescue hazards that may be potentially expected (steep, slippery grades, overhead powerlines, high winds)? If the owner offers to operate the equipment how does that affect their liability in an emergency? In many states where the Good Samaritan Law exists, it may protect would-be rescuers, up until they reach "professional status," however it is defined. It would be judicious for an employer to evaluate his rights and responsibilities with an attorney before issuing any written rescue plan.
The third factor to consider is overall efficiency. As with many other types of rescue, immediately selecting a piece of heavy equipment (crane, lift, backhoe, etc.) as a standard operating procedure may not always be the safest or the most efficient means of rescue. Commandeering, a 30-foot boom lift without proper planning may only actually lift rescuers 20 feet due to site obstructions and lateral triangulation. You could miss reaching a victim by only a few feet and lose valuable rescue time. Sometimes these mechanical devices are just the conveyance that you need with plenty of height to spare, while at other times they add unseen risks, complicate procedures or needlessly extend the access phase. The best rescue plan is the one that you've actually practiced. A successful rescue exercise is defined as reaching all your goals three out of the last three drills.
Ladder Assisted RescueNot all ladders are capable of rescue loads. American National Standards Institute (ANSI A-14.5-2000) defines an extension ladder as: "A non-self-supporting, portable ladder adjustable in length (two-section less than or equal to 60 feet, three-section less than or equal to 72 feet) consisting of two or more sections traveling in guides or brackets or the equivalent and so arranged as to permit length adjustment."
While some professional portable rescue ladders are three-section extensions of as much as 60 feet rated for as much as 750 pounds maximum rated load, most of the extension ladders found on construction sites are 40 feet and either Type I-Heavy Industrial (250-pound weight limit), Type IA-Extra Heavy Industrial (300-pound weight limit) load capacity or Type IAA-Special Duty (375-pound weight limit). Inspect them carefully to ensure that they are in the condition in which they were manufactured and are stabilized in four directions before loading.
The ladder rescue-carry is a difficult technique to train properly and often requires repeated evolutions of escalating difficulty until a 180-pound rescue dummy can be successfully carried to safety from a 30-foot high suspension point without jeopardizing the victim and/or the rescuer. Remember, once you've released the victim from his PFAS, both your lives and safety are on literally on your shoulders. Start training with simple, lightweight exercises and continue until it is unbearable and the decision to "self-abort" can be confidently made.
If you think that your fallen roofer can be easily rescued by setting up a 40-foot ladder against the building you should attempt to rescue 90 pounds of cement (two bags) first. Don't be surprised if you drop the first few. Once you can achieve that goal successfully 10 times without failure, you might consider using a 180-pound, articulated rescue manikin. Don't forget to train with both "right-handed" and "left-handed" access approaches.
Self-rescueI included self-rescue last in roof-edge rescue techniques as a matter of course. I am always reluctant to discuss self-rescue techniques in a magazine article. Attempting to rescue yourself after a fall, may be considered a high-risk procedure if you are pumped full of adrenaline, physically injured or limited, or mentally stunned or in shock. You should never consider any procedure that requires you to disconnect your 100 percent fall protection. Your prime directive: Stay connected. You should also be confident that your impacted lifeline is being carefully inspected and backed up by an on-roof co-worker trained in this procedure.
Many personnel, concerned with the deteriorated condition of the main lifeline, may encourage a victim to descend the rope tail to the ground or scaffolding below using a leg-wrap technique. This action requires significant strength and coordination and may necessitate release from fall protection or cause forces that cause the weakened lifeline/anchor to fail. In any case, the decision criteria required to initiate self-rescue should be clearly identified in the employer's fall rescue plan. Once commitment is made, self-rescue is difficult to abort and the ability to re-establish the security of fall-protection is usually lost. This can cause panic, exhaustion and, ultimately, release.
There are quite a few self-rescue devices available on the market today. More are being invented every day. All of them require serious research, planning and practice before inclusion in the employer's fall protection plan. If you wear only 90 percent of your self-rescue equipment during the workday then that's what you arrive with after your fall.
Tech Safety Lines (www.techsafetylines.com) in Dallas has developed rugged, simple PFAS equipment designed to facilitate self-rescue. The company's Step-Wise Lanyard has a built-in five-step webbed ladder (etrier) that deploys as the fall occurs. The etrier is incorporated in a streamlined design right next to the "shock absorber" of the lanyard. Once deployed, the ladder allows the worker to climb up a few steps and release the garroting effect on the femoral vein, thus reducing the effects of suspension trauma. The Step Wise Lanyard also has a built-in 5,000-pound anchor point ring, which enables the fallen worker to climb several steps and attach Tech Safety Lines' self-rescue device.
This Self-Rescue Kit (SRK-11) comes packaged in a harness-mounted nylon pouch and is equipped with 5-milimeter Vectran® fiber descent ropes which are 50 to150 feet long. Although small in diameter and lightweight, the Vectran's tensile strength exceeds 5,500 pounds per foot. Once the worker has fallen and recovered, he may climb up the etrier ladder to reach his anchor point and connect his rescue line with a carabiner. With his chest D-ring previously attached to the SRK-ll, he merely disconnects his dorsal connection and lowers himself to the ground using a Capewell® controlled, aerial descent device. This mechanism fits easily in one hand and engages a rope brake by letting go of the device's cylindrical collar. Pulling down on the device disengages the braking action increasing the rate of descent. In any case, if you loose your grip the device automatically stops your descent.