MEL Health and Safety Consultants

Work at Height Rescue

Emergency Response Vital for Suspended Operatives  

When working at height, an employer must plan for emergencies and rescue, in all reasonably foreseeable circumstances, such as falls from the use of fall-arrest equipment. The plan is the responsibility of the employer and not others, such as the emergency medical services. Regulation 4 of the Work at Height Regulations stipulate that the casualty must be attended to and recovered quickly.

According to the Work at Height Safety Association’s (WAHSA) Technical Guidance Note 5 (Guidance on recue during work at height), an appropriate rescue plan would have to consider:

  • the safety of the persons carrying out or assisting with the rescue.
  • the anchor points to be used for the rescue equipment.
  • the suitability of equipment (anchors, harnesses, attachments and connectors) that has already arrested the fall of the person for use during the rescue.
  • the method that will be used to attach the person to the rescue system.
  • the direction in which the person needs to be moved to get them to the point of safety.
  • the possible needs of the person after the rescue, including first aid.


In order of preference, the normal options for rescue include:


1.       Lowering a remote casualty

2.       Raising a remote casualty

3.       Self-evacuation by descent

4.       Rescuing another in descent


HSE guidance states that the key is to get the person released from the suspended-harness position (rescue) to the nearest point of safety (evacuation), in the shortest possible time, and as soon as is safely possible. Otherwise, the person can suffer from pre-syncope (loss of consciousness). The symptoms for this include light-headedness, nausea, sensations of flushing, tingling or numbness of the arms or legs, anxiety, visual disturbance, or a feeling they are about to faint. Pre-syncope can occur within one hour and, in 20 per cent of people, within 10 minutes.


If the rescuer is unable to immediately release the conscious person, elevation of the legs by the person or rescuer, where safely possible, may prolong tolerance of suspension. Thus, there must be a prompt and rapid response to ensure the survival of the person. If the employer cannot do this, then harness work may have to be re-assessed and reviewed.

Info Bite 94
August 2011