Suspension Trauma

Suspension Trauma (now known as ‘Suspension Intolerance (trauma)’ in AS 1891.4) or  in medical terms as Orthostatic Shock, is the term used to describe the effect on victims who are suspended after a fall within a body harness for a prolonged period of time (5 – 30 Minutes).

Suspension trauma presents with the development of a range of symptoms that may result in unconsciousness or death, and is thought to occur as a result of low blood pressure secondary to blood pooling in the legs, pelvis and abdomen of victims who are suspended and motionless.

When presented with a person suspended in a harness, it should be a priority that rescue of the individual be conducted as soon as safely possible.

If a rescue of an individual suspended in a harness has occurred, suspension trauma may present itself with symptoms similar to that of general ‘shock’ and should be considered for anyone that has been suspended for as little as five (5) minutes and shows the following signs:

-  Unconsciousness -  Nausea
-  Faintness -  Sweating
-  Dizziness -  Low Blood Pressure
-  Breathlessness  

 The Australian Resuscitation Council (www.resus.org.au) recommends the following patient management steps in Guideline 9.1.5 dated July 2009:

  1. Call for an ambulance – dial triple zero – 000,
  2. If unconscious, manage as per ARC Basic Life Support flow chart (Guideline 8),
  3. Rest the conscious victim in a position of comfort, ideally lying down, and provide reassurance,
  4. Loosen or remove harness,
  5. Administer oxygen if available,
  6. Look for and manage associated injuries, but particularly victims who may have fallen or been electrocuted,
  7. Monitor the signs of life at frequent intervals.