Why choose rope access over more traditional means of access, such as scaffolding, MEWPS, and cherry pickers? Surely swinging around on ropes is dangerous? What does a thrill seeking activity such as abseiling have to do with the work place?
These are the sorts of questions the rope access industry is often faced with, but at Highlife we believe that once people have seen rope access in action, the benefits become clear, and these sorts of questions fade away. We'll confront these questions in a moment, but first up a little bit of history.
Rope access first started in the 1980's, when climbers and cavers recognised a twofold problem. On the one hand they realised that for many applications, scaffolding was cumbersome, time consuming, and expensive. By abseiling into work situations which would otherwise require scaffolding, they were not only able to dramatically reduce the time a job would take, but quite often do the work for a fraction of the price. On the other hand, they recognised that the industry was crying out for greater safety measures. Work was being done without the proper constraints, and people were dying because of it. We've all seen the infamous photo of workers in New York having their lunch on a crossbeam, way up in the sky. That photo might not have been quite as iconic if they'd all been wearing full body harnesses, and two ropes tying them to the structure in case they fall, but this illustrates just how much the industry has evolved. Whilst it was once considered normal to measure a workers life span by his ability to balance along a foot of steel, we now consider it necessary to have a back up at all times in case the first safety measure fails.
''Lunch atop a skyscraper'' - 1930s New York City
Nowadays organisations such as IRATA, which was initially formed in response to a demand for solutions to maintenance problems in the offshore oil and gas industry, are recognised worldwide and have trained hundreds of thousands of workers to work safely in a wide variety of environments. IRATA, as a global leader in the industry, has an exceptional safety record, and for this reason has become synonymous with rope access itself.
Modern rope access techniques use two points off attachment at all times.
So why choose rope access?
As briefly mentioned above, there are many work applications for which the traditional means of access just don't work very well. There are countless reasons why this might be the case, but we will highlight a few of the main reasons below.
Speed - if a job needs doing quickly due to weather constraints or access limitations, such as temporary closure of a workplace or a railway obstruction, or if there is an emergency, then rope access is ideal. Whereas scaffolding can take days to erect, it is very rare for abseil anchors to require more than an hour or two to set up, and quite often once a site visit has been made to create a proper risk assessment and method statement, nothing else is needed prior to work starting. Our operatives can be on site and getting the job done, when scaffolders would still be building a platform for ordinary tradesmen to work off.
Impact - whilst scaffolding can be an eyesore, it can also cause damage to the structure it is built against. Similarly, MEWPS and cherry pickers can harm the terrain surrounding a building and need access below the work zone. Rope access is incredibly low impact, both visually and physically. Whilst this is important in all work environments, it really comes into its own when working on historic buildings. We frequently run into stones damaged by the steeple jacks of old, and pride our selves in repairing buildings without leaving any trace of having been there.
Cost - ultimately, everything comes down to the price. Traditionally, if work needed doing in a hard to reach area, it would require scaffolding an entire building just to get there. Quite often this would translate as tens of thousands of pounds just to reach the work! With rope access, we can completely cut away this cost, leaving the client with more money to spend on other works. This can be an especially important consideration for small organisations such as churches, who often have limited funds.
Without rope access, a simple job such as this emergency flashing replacement would have been an expensive and time consuming affair.
With rope access, it is possible to get more work done in a shorter space of time, with a lower visual and physical impact, at a fraction of the price. And it isn't just the small jobs where this is applicable. Experienced operatives can work almost as fast on ropes as they can on their feet, so there really is no job too big to make rope access a consideration if you are looking for a low impact, cost effective solution.
The possibilities are more or less without limit, and at Highlife we pride ourselves in creative solutions to any problem. Our IRATA trained operatives work with the highest degree of safety in mind, to the effect that in practice working off ropes is no more dangerous than any other means of access. We don't leave the ground for thrills - we're called Highlife because being high up is a way of living.