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Rope Access: A Technology to Give Your Company an Edge

All worksites, across all industries have challenges related to providing safe access. An area may be difficult to access safely for many reasons. Work conducted at heights or down a recessed area could cause an injury or fatality if a worker should fall. There are enclosed work areas that may increase risk of atmospheric hazards and make an evacuation very difficult. An unusual angle of approach could cause a worker to experience a musculoskeletal injury or a fall. Extreme weather and terrain puts these workers at additional risk of incidents occurring. Finally, there may be any number of hazardous jobs where a quick rescue must be ensured. Regardless of the different access challenges that may be seen, safe work conditions must be in place to protect worker lives and in doing so, the business itself.

Rope access technology is an engineered solution that provides safe entry to many different work areas. Workers are able to access high angle work sites by ascending and descending pre-rigged rope systems. Rope experts are able to rig customized set ups, manoeuvre workers, and adjust to difficult angles and unusual or dangerous site conditions. It is a very accessible solution and can be used in almost any situation. Rope access is extremely portable and is often used on remote sites where vehicle or mobile equipment access is limited or impossible. The equipment requires little effort for maintenance, materials are easily transported, there is minimal set-up time, and there is the added cost savings over time as complex heavy-duty equipment permits are not required. There may be situations where rope use is an absolute necessity. In some jurisdictions, even when utilizing scaffolding or mobile equipment, workers are still required to be tied in with ropes. Guard-rails, for example, are the main protection to workers on scaffolding structures or mobile equipment. They only offer fall protection to prevent a fall, but they do nothing to stop a fall once it has occurred. Rope access prevents a fall from occurring in the first place, in this way is the most complete tool in terms of safety and liability.

More traditionally utilized methods include erecting scaffolding or utilizing mobile equipment such as mechanical lifts, elevated platforms or cranes. Both the equipment and scaffolding are not viable options for many work locations or situations. There are physical limitations such as uneven or sinking ground conditions, extreme weather, difficult topography or mountainous terrain that that may not support a structure or the safe operation of machinery. Unlike rope access, unusual or dangerous conditions or work areas often prevent their viability as access tools. Utilizing mobile equipment such as lifts, platforms or cranes can also significantly increase risk to workers as conditions deviate from the manufacturer’s suggested use. Mobile equipment and scaffolding carries the additional cost of a time consuming and arduous set-up time, heavy transportation costs and manpower required to move many pieces of cumbersome equipment, permits that must be maintained, and extensive maintenance and inspections required.

Scaffolding, mobile equipment, and rope access may in some cases all meet minimum safe working conditions and all be viable options in traditional work environments.  Even in this scenario they do not share the same level of risk to workers. Scaffolding, lifts and work platforms are extremely recognizable to everyone including non-industry persons.  This in itself may contribute to related injury rates, as there is an illusion of safety when something is familiar. It is not uncommon to see untrained personnel at warehouses or even retailers attempt to use scaffolding or platforms. In actuality, it is specialized equipment and requires a high degree of formal safety training. Rope access, on the other hand, intuitively requires a high degree of specialized knowledge and training and is not likely to be abused out of convenience by untrained personnel or the public.

In an increasingly safety-conscious world, creating conditions to reduce the likelihood of injuries caused by access issues can have a great effect on overall business. Companies with the best safety performance are chosen over their competitors. There is a growing emphasis on corporate social responsibility that urges business to make ethical choices. It is no coincidence the companies with the best safety performance also retain the best hires, as employees demand to work in a safe environment where their lives and safety matter.  Competitive safety metrics be a large contributing factor to retaining key client accounts and winning new work. Simon Sinek, a business strategist and author of Leaders Eat Last said it best with his remark, “Leadership sets the tone and the conditions. If you get the conditions right, the organization thrives.” Providing the most secure access methods, including rope access, and ensuring safe working-conditions that present the least amount of risk to workers is the better business choice. Companies that present the lowest risk to their workers, in access issues or in general, are not only doing the right thing, they also stand to prosper the most in a competitive economy.

Written by Samantha Fodor