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Integrating Rope Access and What it Means to You

It takes a certain amount of courage (and a lack of fear of heights) to suspend oneself at 20 stories above the ground and trust a two-rope system to keep you up there. However, that’s just what rope access means – working often at lofty heights to accomplish tasks ranging from offshore drilling rigs to building inspection and maintenance. Rope access represents an alternate means to access locations at height – whether above or below ground. It replaces or compliments by adding additional capability to other access means, such as scaffolding, mobile platforms, or man baskets. Rope access is based on a tried-and-tested two rope system with a built-in redundancy – there is a main working line with a secondary backup or safety line, so if one rope fails, there is always another. The devices used to descend the ropes have auto-lock and brake functions, meaning that the user does not have to physically hold either line, allowing safe and completely hands free work. This means that the applications for rope access are diverse – welding, pipe fitting, electrical installations, tensile fabric installations, maintenance work, and more are all feasible with this technology.

To better understand rope access, Jason Porter, Operations Manager at Global Rope Access, can explain the intricacies of the field. With two decades of experience in rope access – starting with church steeple restorations in his native UK and then progressing to various industrial applications, mountain support, and construction around the world before settling in Canada – he is truly an expert when it comes to ropes.

There are several main advantages to rope access that Jason outlines. The first is cost effectiveness – anywhere from 40-70% cheaper than, for example the cost of scaffolding.  Additional cost savings comes into play when reduced mobilization times are taken into account. With quicker response times, less downtime, and fewer delays, rope access means that non-production time for critical manufacturing processes are reduced to an absolute minimum. Rope access is quick to set up and take down. This is especially important in today’s economy, particularly in Western Canada where the downturn in the oil and gas industry means that all companies are looking for ways to keep costs low and keep operations moving. The use of rope access is dramatically increasing in the oil sands as a means of saving money; tens of millions of dollars per year can be saved by not using scaffolding, by decreasing time delays and increasing efficiency.

Many people voice concerns about safety when it comes to rope access – after all, it isn’t necessarily intuitive to trust a rope to bear body weight. Jason says the “newbie” response is typically “you want me to do this where, by how, doing what?!” In general, rope access in Canada just hasn’t been considered – it is a relatively new industry here, although in other countries and in industry where it’s been a necessity (for example, offshore rigs in the UK), there is a longer history. No matter the application, safety is the name of the game when it comes to ropes, and Jason says that safety concerns (while a common question) are no reason to turn down rope access – in fact, the statistics show that it’s arguably the safest methods of conducting work at height, and that the statistics reflect the safety culture that rope access promotes.

IRATA (www.irata.org) is the go-to international organization for rope access and safety statistics. When comparing safety reports (statistics such as major injuries, serious injuries, days away from work, and fatalities), the numbers for rope access consistently fall under that of comparable industries. In their most recent 2014 report, IRATA states that “the continuing maintenance of an accident/incident rate of less than about 1 per 100,000 hours of work on rope since 2005 and less than 0.5 for the last five consecutive years is a notable achievement.” Further to this, “the reportable injury rate of only 68 per 100,000 workers…remained well below all international statistics for all reportable injuries.” Since records have been taken in Canada (starting about 15 years ago), Canada’s safety performance in rope access speaks for itself. Jason believes that the misplaced concerns about rope access safety may be due to a lack of understanding of the technology. He stresses that current regulations and standards are far removed from, for example, the olden-days window washers or rock scaling methods that were not regulated in the same way.

Rope access permits a variety of work to be conducted in a variety of places, for lower costs at a faster rate than alternative means. In urban areas, it removes any footprint with something like scaffolding, which can be vandalized or pose a risk for theft and security. In more remote areas, rope access provides an inexpensive way to get to difficult places quickly. And with safety statistics showing its benefits, there is no doubt that the industry will continue to rope up moving forward.