Vertical working has always been high risk and challenging. Gaining access, staying safe, protecting those working from falls and knowing your means of descent or rescue are all part of the job for Rope Access technicians and managers.
Modern rope access techniques are proving a game changer across a range of sectors. From renewables to oil and gas, rope access technicians are proving a capable, safe and cost effective alternative to traditional at height methods.
Working on oil rigs, wind turbines, bridges and other high structures usually involves cumbersome equipment, such as scaffolding, mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs) or work positioning netting (WPN). Not only is this safety equipment costly, but getting it into position can be an expensive exercise too. In comparison, the savings can be substantial. There are numerous other benefits, which we explore in this article.
#1: Rope Access Emerged From Industry Demand
Europe and the UK led the way in safe rope access, when the Industrial Rope Access Trade Association (IRATA), was formed in the late 1980’s as a response to demand in the oil & gas sector. That was the first industry body, to set and maintain safety and training standards. America caught up in the 1990’s, with the Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians (SPRAT).
Safety has always been at the forefront of the minds of those in the industry. A profession that was created out of the needs of sectors that Rope Access technicians were already serving. In the early days, many were taking skills and experiences learned for fun, and in the adventure industry, then applying them where they were needed most. That continues to influence how some access techs and managers enter the sector.
#2: The Industry is Self-Regulating
Working at height is still dangerous, with the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) recording at least fifty falls every year. Several are always fatal. Whereas, rope access staff and contractors are known for exceptional safety records.
Although they are, and should always factor in key safety legislation, most of the specifics come from industry bodies and experts, such as IRATA. For clients, this means there is not a huge compliance burden – this is all factored into Rope Access Work Plans.
#3: Rope Access Work Plans takes operational site risks into consideration
Rope access work does not happen in isolation. Those with the relevant experience need to design a plan that accommodates everyone their work will/could impact on the site. This plan is “A written statement prepared by the employer describing how a particular job (or types of jobs where these will be essentially identical) should be undertaken to ensure any risks to health and safety of the workers, or others who may be affected, are minimized or eliminated.”
#4: Rope work involves an active elimination of risk
Rope managers and more experienced technicians always work alongside less experienced colleagues. Access Plans include a detailed action response plan in place, including details of how emergency services can rescue anyone in danger. All rope access technicians should be capable of self-rescue and in good health to get out of danger. Supervisors should also be equipped and ready to rescue colleagues at a moment’s notice.
Unlike other at height techniques, rope access won’t endanger an entire sites operations if there are problems.
#5: Rope Access: Versatile, Efficient and Economical
With fewer people, less equipment, a shorter preparation and takedown timescale, there are numerous reasons why rope access is a popular choice in the energy and renewable sector. Access technicians can work almost anywhere, even hundreds of feet in the air, above seas and oceans, where rigs and turbines need maintenance and calibration.
Considering the impact on operational budgets and their ability to reduce compliance risk, the scope of work rope access technicians can undertake is only likely to increase in the future.