Tragedy sparked a new idea about safety for Max Wilhammer, who creates customized fall-protection harnesses including some that provide longer protection for dangling construction workers who have fallen and been saved by their harnesses.
Hanging in a harness after a fall for more than five minutes in an upright posture, with legs relaxed straight beneath the body, can cause serious injury or death, according to Occupational Safety and Health magazine. Wilhammer says that severe injury is possible after eight to 12 minutes. Others have put the time until injury at 14 minutes in a full-body harness.
Wilhammer knows the dangers from personal experience. Twenty-four years ago at age 17, while working as an apprentice painter on the twenty-second floor of a Nashville high-rise, Willhammer found a co-worker hanging from his safety harness. He had fallen from a ladder and was dead.
Wilhammer thought the man, an electrician, had hung himself. “It didn’t make any sense to me,” Willhammer says.