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The Movement Towards Rope Access and What It Means For You

Rope access, which is using ropes as an alternate means to access locations at height, is not something that has seen widespread use in industry for very long. Even though ropes themselves aren’t a new technology, modern rope access as an industry itself is quite new – at least in North America. About 20 years ago, rope access was first introduced in Canada. After years of successful projects completed, high-profile examples of the benefits of implementing rope access, and a solid safety track record, the rope access industry is finally starting to gain momentum. As engineers, project managers, and other team leads gain exposure to rope access – either first-hand on sites, or through the media – an increasing number of companies are choosing this alternate access means. Business development is growing, and now, in locations ranging from power generation facilities to bridge construction sites, people who may not have even heard of rope access a decade ago are now accepting it as a superior method to reach difficult locations. But with this movement towards rope access, what impact does it have on the work being done, and the individuals on site?

Sean Easton, CEO of Global Rope Access, brings years of experience and expertise to this field and he has watched rope access mature as an industry over time. He explains that as people become more familiar with rope access, they’re realizing that previously inaccessible work locations or cost-prohibitive procedures can now become a reality. For those companies making decisions about what method to use to access sites – choosing between traditional access means (such as scaffolding, cranes, or man-lifts) and rope access – Sean explains that there are three major factors that speak to the benefits of rope access.

The first impact of implementing rope access is an immediate, and substantial, cost savings. This savings can range anywhere from 50% to upwards of 75%, depending on the project. Traditional scaffolding requires a significant budget, both in materials and in time; it can take days or even weeks to erect scaffolding to a high location, such as a smokestack or pipe. Once work is completed, the scaffolding will need to be dismantled as well. The labor costs as well as materials definitely adds up – and that’s before the actual work that’s supposed to take place commences. With rope access, both the materials and lag time are virtually eliminated – for example, a few workers could show up on site with ropes, access a high-angle site without impeding work by others farther down, and complete a job in a single day.

Related to this is the efficiency of rope access, which Sean explains is the second major benefit of rope access. By eliminating the setup time that precedes work, scheduling can be significantly compressed. All that is required with rope access are the safety checks and systems in place before work can commence. Tradespeople (such as a welder, or an NDT Technician working on a pipe) may have a short job that takes one or two days at most – and with rope access, the cost savings coupled with the expediency of the process is attractive. It is important to note that the rope access technicians are also certified tradespeople conducting complex work on the ropes. Welding, insulation, and pipefitting are all commonly done as an integrated service from ropes.

Finally, the third benefit (though Sean clarifies that it’s probably the most important one to note) is the safety factor; because of the stringent regulations governing the rope access industry, the safety statistics reflect a safety culture with impeccable management. When referring to IRATA (www.irata.org), the international organization for rope access and safety statistics, the numbers for rope access are far below those of general construction or other methods of access. The training and certification that is required to utilize rope access on a site mean that above all else, this is work conducted by safety professionals.

Sean will be the first to admit that rope access can by no means replace those traditional access methods, and that there’s still a place for scaffolding, cranes, and man-lifts. On jobs that require large workforces from multiple contractors conducting extended tasks at height, scaffolding could be the best solution. However, rope access can still be used adjacent to this scaffold location, and complete speciality access projects throughout the worksite. Scaffolding and rope access are often seen side by side. One surprising element is the amount of rope access used at only 20-30 feet off the ground – the access with which critical access and repairs can be conducted at these low elevations is significant. The first step in making the decision about when and where to incorporate rope access is to have an expert rope access Operations Manager come on site to identify applications and provide an estimated budget The cost savings can quickly gain support and get recognition throughout organizations new to rope access. Many large clients have saved millions of dollars in construction and operations costs within the first year of use.

Ultimately, the variables of site location, the duration and number of tasks to be undertaken, and the number of people involved will all come into play when choosing whether or not rope access is the best choice. But given the benefits this technology provides, it’s certain that rope access technicians will become an essential and common sight in industry in Canada in short order.