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The Bottom Line: Rope Access vs. Other Access Methods

Although rope access is an accepted form of access under Worksafe BC Occupational Health & Safety regulations, we continue to hear questions about this versatile access method and how it fits into the workplace.  Lets take a few minutes to understand how rope access fits into industrial projects.

Who

Rope access techniques can be used by any organization that conducts work at height. Prior to the advent of rope access, the following access methods were commonly used:

·      Structural climbing with fall arrest systems

·      Swingstage

·      Crane with a suspended personnel platform (man basket)

·      Scaffolding

·      Aerial Work Platform

Nearly any job that can be accessed using the above methods can use rope access as an alternative or as a complementary method of access for specific parts of the work site that are not practical for the other methods.

What

The Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians (SPRAT) (the leading authority on rope access work in North America) defines rope access as:

“Rope access refers to a set of techniques where ropes and specialized hardware are used as the primary means of providing access and support to workers. Generally a two-rope system is employed: the working rope supports the worker and the safety rope provides back-up fall protection.”

In other words, Rope Access is a method of accessing and supporting a worker.  In that sense it differs little from the other access and support methods described previously although that is where the similarity ends. Rope Access is a way to get somewhere and do work.

Where

So where is rope access to be used then?  Above we discussed the places where it could be used but that does not make it the perfect fit for all tasks.  Let’s look at a couple of places where rope access is often the best fit for a project:

1.     Rope access excels in difficult to reach locations.  This might mean parts of the project that are physically inaccessible to cranes or other mechanical equipment. For example, maintenance of part of a facility that has machinery, materials, or structures preventing mobile equipment access.  Site locations that are too remote to make the use of such equipment practical or cost effective, for example Power Line construction in mountainous terrain, is another instance where rope access would be beneficial.

2.     Inspection and maintenance work of a shorter duration or those requiring access to multiple work areas are perfect for rope access.  Technicians require very minimal setup time as opposed to traditional access methods such as swing stage or scaffolding that can be very time consuming and costly to set up.  Rope access technicians can move from task to task quickly and avoid the costs of setting up and tear down associated with other methods of access.

When

Any time your project involves work at height, you should be looking at rope access as an alternative to other access methods or as a complementary method of reaching specific areas.  Rope access excels in many circumstances and is often going to be the safest and by far the cheapest option you have to complete the work.

Why

Rope access is the safest method of any of those listed above. Extensive pre planning and risk assessment is part of the training to become a certified rope access technician. Combine this with a structured mentoring process and you have a method of work that holds an exemplary safety record worldwide.

Another key reason to look at rope access as the access method of choice on your next project is cost. The smaller crew size, minimal setup time, and limited equipment requirements make rope access the least expensive method of work at height.

The Bottom Line

Use of rope access is expanding quickly in the construction, utilities and energy industries worldwide. Rope access will not be the solution for every situation, but the advantages over traditional access methods are many and undeniable.

Sometimes the best way to learn about rope access is to speak to an industry expert or drop into a course and see what the students are learning.  GRA hosts monthly rope access courses at our facility in Squamish. If you have a project in mind but aren’t sure if rope access makes sense, give us a call and we’ll put you in touch with a subject matter expert.

For additional information, to schedule a site audit, or to request a quote for services, contact Global Rope Access at [email protected]