Getting the Ropes Up ThereOctober 10, 2014
By: Brad Kilgour, October 10, 2014
On the last big project we worked on, the site safety manager asked “How did the ropes get up there in the first place?” This was not the first time we have been asked this question by workers or management on industrial work sites.
As experts in working at height, we accept that there will be risk present during operations. Our goal is always to minimize the risk to a level that we are willing to accept through comprehensive training, thorough risk assessment and pre-job planning.
When it comes to initial anchor installation, assessment of the location of the anchorage is very important. It can be difficult to accurately assess the physical characteristics of the anchorage from the ground so if any doubts remain after the risk assessment, a different method of access is utilized.
Remote reach poles or “stick clips” have been used by recreational climbers for years to reach anchorages on rock routes where the initial bolt is difficult to access. When it comes to commercial stick clips, there are a number of manufacturers of both the poles and the end attachments for use in industrial workplaces. Although a great tool for some applications, anchorage height is limited to the longest pole you can find.
Yates Rescue Clip
Standing below the area where ropes need to be installed, the rope is attached to the clip on the end of the pole and extended up to the height of the anchorage. A twist of the pole is required to release the connector and lock it around the anchorage. This method can be used to install both the working line and safety line.
Throwing the Ropes
Another way to get the ropes up there is by throwing them. As with the stick clip method, this technique is limited in the anchorage height that can be reached. Techniques for rope tossing have borrowed heavily from the arborist world, as have other techniques used in rope access.
After determining that the item around which we will pass the ropes is clear from hazards, a rope is tossed up and over. This small diameter rope is usually referred to as a throw line and will have a throw bag (see picture below) attached to the end. If it works and the end of the throw line ends up over the structure and down the other side then we attach our main climbing rope (typically 11mm kernmantle) to the free end of the throw line and pull our larger rope up and over. Once one rope is over it is easy to get the second rope up for use as the back-up rope (also called safety or belay rope). When both ropes are over the anchorage, the ends are either hard tied at ground level or a special type of anchorage system called a pull through is rigged. Once both ropes are secured then technicians use them to access the work area as normal.
Assisted Rope Throw
If tossing the throw bag is unsuccessful, several techniques can be used to assist the thrower. The methods used to achieve greater height are different from a conventional throw, but the techniques used once the throw line is established are exactly the same.
Slingshots have been developed for use in this specific application. Utilizing this method requires practice and patience but can be fairly effective for accessing anchorages that are too high for a conventional throw.
Line launcher guns use a variety of methods to propel a weight at the end of a rope; these may include compressed air, gas or even a special type of bullet. Use of these methods are more hazardous due to the increased energy used in propulsion and users should ensure proper precautions are in place to protect the technician, as well as the general public. Check with your municipality for any laws or bylaws prohibiting use of these types of systems.
Aerial Work Platform (AWP) or Crane
Rope access technicians occasionally use mechanical equipment to access the work area. There are several disadvantages to this method; the cost of renting, the availability and response time of the equipment as well as the overall footprint of the machinery.
Once the machine has been set up, rope access technicians will be raised to the anchorage location and the ropes installed. The AWP or crane is then free to leave the site as the technicians will now utilize the ropes to ascend and descend to the work area.
In situations where all of the other methods are infeasible, workers may utilize lead climbing techniques to access the work area initially and install the ropes for subsequent access.
Rope access techniques are designed to avoid a fall altogether, or to limit the fall to a short distance. Lead climbing differs from other rope access techniques in that the possibility of a fall is part of the job plan. Technicians mitigate the hazards by installing anchorages as close together as possible, thus reducing the fall distance.
The end of the rope is tied into the technician before they climb. The other end of the rope is fed through a belay device anchored at the base of the structure and is controlled by a technician (often called the belayer). As the technician ascends vertically up the structure, slings are installed around the anchorage and the rope is clipped into a carabiner at the end of the sling. If the technician falls during the climb, the belayer arrests the fall by preventing the rope from passing through the belay device.
Most access situations allow the technicians to rig a special type of anchorage for final retrieval called a pull-through. Once this is rigged, the last technician descends the ropes and is able to pull the ropes down from ground level, leaving nothing behind. Off to the next site we go…
About the Author: Brad Kilgour
Work at Height & Rescue Specialist
Brad has spent the last 15 years learning as much as possible about working at height and rescue. His practical field experience in rope access, technical rope rescue, industrial rope rescue, fall protection, and rigging is well balanced by extensive research into policy, regulations, equipment and standards in each area.
Brad currently spends about 40% of his time teaching students around the world safe work at height, rope access and rescue techniques. The remainder is spent conducting field operations working at height in industrial construction, rope access and rescue. Home base is Cumberland, BC where Brad lives with his wife. He is an active member of the Comox Valley Search and Rescue team, part of the BC Cave Rescue community, and a volunteer on the Mt. Cain Ski Patrol.