The Importance of a Rescue Plan Part 1

Jacob WallaceHigh Rise Safety, Industry

Recently, we’ve seen a flurry of window cleaning accidents in the news. On November 12, two window cleaners were stuck on the world trade center in NYC for an hour when their scaffold got stuck. Two more cleaners were stuck on November 4 in NYC when their scaffold got stuck (they were able to fix the platform and bring it down without rescuers). On October 2, two others were stuck for two hours in Oakland waiting for rescue after their scaffold motor failed. These incidents are frequent (our brief search uncovered 9 in 2014), and surprisingly similar.

In most cases, when your scaffold gets stuck, you can hang tight and wait for the fire department to break a window and get you. But, what if you are stuck because of a serious medical problem like a heart attack? What if your platform has collapsed entirely, and you are hanging from your harness (like in this incident)? What if your local fire department isn’t trained in high angle rescue? Is calling 911 enough of a rescue plan?

Do I Need A Rescue Plan?

To start, we should explain what a rescue plan is. A rescue plan is what you will do in case of an emergency. The idea comes from two OSHA directives:

  • OSHA 1926.502 (d)(20): The employer shall provide for prompt rescue of employees in the event of a fall or shall assure that employees are able to rescue themselves.
  • OSHA 1910.66 Appendix CI (e)(8): The employer shall provide for prompt rescue of employees in the event of a fall or shall assure the self-rescue capability of employees.

Depending on your situation, a rescue plan can be simple. The idea is that you have to have thought it through ahead of time, and documented it somehow. And of course, your crew needs to have the training and competency to carry out your rescue plan.

Types of Rescue Plans

Rescue plans vary widely and are specific to each job site’s unique situation. However, there are a few main types of rescues to consider.


Self-rescue is the easiest and fastest type of rescue. It’s taught in IWCA safety training and used by many safe and reputable window cleaning companies. It’s useful in chair work (aka RDS) when your main line fails, and you are hanging from your rope grab or if your scaffolding gets stuck.

The downside is that a self-rescue is dependent upon the fallen worker being conscious and capable of performing a self-rescue. After a fall, this is certainly not a guarantee.

Fixed Lower Rescue

A fixed lower rescue involves attaching your patient to a rope going through a fixed descent device (e.g., a Petzl ID anchored at the roof), and lowering them to safety. This is a relatively easy rescue to perform with proper training.

Note that if the fallen worker is out of reach of the top of the building, you’ll have to get the rescue line down to them somehow. This will probably involve a second worker bringing the line to them.

Pick-Off Rescue

Pick-Off is the most versatile type of rescue. It’s utilized by SPRAT and IRATA techs (the best of the best), high angle rescue teams, and many others. A skilled technician can rescue someone in virtually any circumstance using a pick-off. It involves the rescuer descending (or ascending as the case may be) to the patient, connecting to them, lifting and disconnecting them from their system, and lowering rescuer and patient to safety.

The downside is that this rescue is more difficult to perform and requires more training.

How Do I Choose?

In our next few posts in this series, we’ll talk about some common scenarios and get input from industry experts. Stay tuned.


Jacob Wallace