Understanding WSBC Part 34 – Rope Access

By:  Brad Kilgour

Effective February 1, 2015 in British Columbia, new Occupational Health and Safety legislation concerning work performed using Rope Access came into effect.

Although Part 34 does include provisions for mountain guiding, cave guiding and workers in climbing gyms, this discussion will focus on industrial rope access techniques.  We will address the ramifications for climbing and guiding in BC in a later discussion.

You can view the WSBC regulations here:

So what is Rope Access anyway?

Rope access is a form of work positioning that allows workers to access remote areas without the use of swing stage, scaffolding, crane or other traditional access methods.  Rope access cannot replace these other methods of access; instead it provides an option for specific work situations (for which is it very well suited and cost effective).

Several groups around the world have created standards for work and training in rope access techniques; in North America the Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians (SPRAT) is commonly accepted while overseas operations normally adhere to the requirements of the Industrial Rope Access Trade Association(IRATA).

Very few places in North America currently recognize rope access as a specific way of working and accessing work areas.  Along with Alberta, Nova Scotia, California and New York City, British Columbia will be leading the way in North America with implementation of regulations pertaining to work requiring rope access.

Isn’t Rope Access already covered by other parts of the regulation?

Techniques used in some industries may be termed “Rope Access” although they utilize a more traditional approach to working at height.  In the building maintenance industry for example, a Bosun’s (Boatswain’s) Chair is often used to access high angle work areas.  This method of access uses two separate components; the chair itself to which the worker is not normally attached, and the Fall Arrest system that is comprised of a vertical lifeline and fall arrester connected to the workers harness.   Work in a bosun’s chair is currently covered in Part 13 – Ladders, Scaffolds and Temporary Work Platforms, and this will not change under the new regulations.  Part 34 specifically excludes work from a Bosun’s Chair for this reason.  Other work tasks that might be deemed to fall under the term “Rope Access” but have been specifically excluded for a number of reasons are:

How will this affect me?

That all depends on what you do.  The hierarchy of fall protection described in Part 11 – Fall Protection still applies; if a fall restraint system is not practicable then a fall arrest system or a rope access system must be used.   There are a number of significant changes that will affect everyone involved in rope access in BC. It is important that all persons involved have a clear understanding of the new requirements.

Employers in BC that are already members of SPRAT or IRATA will have very little changes to make in their rope access programs as the SPRAT Safe Practices for Rope Access Work (SPFRAW) and IRATAInternational Code of Practice (ICOP) already require most of the items listed in Part 34.  For employers in BC that are not members of one of these two groups, and those with non-certified employees working at height using rope access techniques; the changes will be quite dramatic.

The following are some of the changes these employers will have to make:

  • Ensure all workers hold valid certification from SPRAT or IRATA.

  • Implement practices as outlined in the associated SPRAT or IRATA safe work document.

  • Ensure that a written rope access plan is prepared and available on site for any work requiring rope access (sometimes called an Access Permit).

  • Train all employees in the rope access plan to be used on site.

  • Only provide equipment that meets the standards listed in the regulation.

Workers are also given responsibility under the new regulations.  Examples of some responsibilities of the worker include:

  • Compliance with the safe work practices identified by their level of training.

  • Utilizing a two-rope system (except in some specific work situations described in the regulation).

  • Maintaining a daily logbook of all rope access activities that is signed by a supervisor or manager.

  • Only using personal protective equipment listed in the regulation as per the manufacturer instructions.

The Bottom Line?

Part 34 has been added to the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations in BC to address a significant increase in the number of workers utilizing rope access techniques in the province.  This increase is a direct result of the proven efficiencies of rope access techniques as well as the exemplary safe work record of rope access around the world. This safe work record is a direct result of the high levels of training a rope access worker receives, compared to other workers using traditional fall protection techniques.

The proposed amendments to Part 11 Fall Protection and the new Part 34 – Rope Access (including explanatory notes) can be found here.

For other information on rope access contact Global Rope Access.

Fun Fact: Did you know that GRA was part of the original panel responsible for developing Part 34? We were also selected to train WSBC engineers in SPRAT techniques so that they could understand and apply the legislation. Check out what they said here. GRA also provided materials (job assessments, checklists, etc.) as an example of how they apply in the workplace to help train their officers for onsite visits.