What is Rope Access?
Rope Access is a working at height method where ropes and associated equipment are utilised to access and undertake work at height. In contrast to climbing and abseiling, rope access uses two ropes (a working line and a back-up line). This gives the rope access system redundancy, reducing the risk to the rope access technician should his or her working line fail. Rope access codes of practise were developed from climbing and caving techniques, and were further refined to meet industry standards.
A Brief History of Rope Access
The use of ropes dates back to prehistoric times, with the first likely to have been naturally occurring lengths of plant fibre such as vines. The earliest rope known to man was discovered on a Neanderthal site, and is estimated to be 40,000 years old. The Egyptians are thought to be the first civilisation to invent specialist tools to make rope, the use of rope enabling them to haul the large stones that made-up the Pyramids. So far we’ve been talking about rope, not rope access! Individuals have used ropes to access difficult areas for many years, from cathedral masons in the Middle Ages, to the isolated St Kilda islanders who abseiled down cliffs to catch seabirds. But formalised rope access as we know it today began in the 1980’s, with the formation of the Industrial Rope Access Trade Association.
IRATA was established in 1987 to solve maintenance challenges in the offshore oil and gas industry. The discovery of oil in the North Sea in the 1970’s had led to rapid construction of oil platforms, which now needed ongoing inspection and maintenance. Norway, the Gulf of Mexico and other offshore oil and gas fields faced similar issues. The rope access techniques developed by IRATA were based around inspection, maintenance and repair work.
What are the benefits of rope access?
Compared to alternate methods such as scaffolding, rope access has many competitive advantages:
- Safety: rope access is statistically the safest method of performing work at height.
- Speed: rope access systems are typically faster to set-up and remove than the alternatives. This leads to efficiency gains.
- Cost-effective: rope access is usually considerably cheaper than scaffolding or plant hire due to savings on equipment, time, and labour.
- Environmentally friendly: rope access is a lightweight solution that leaves a minimal footprint. It doesn’t usually require fuelled equipment, unless large power tools or compressors are required.
- Versatile: rope access is a versatile method that can be adapted to a variety of environments. Specialist rigging can allow a worker to access areas that other methods cannot reach. These include confined spaces, working over the side or underneath oil platforms, and around power-lines (to name but a few).
- Lightweight: Rope Access equipment is typically lighter and more mobile than the alternatives. If weight is an issue structurally or logistically, rope access is a viable solution.
The safety of workers and bystanders is always the number one consideration when considering working at heights. One of the biggest hazards is the potential for dropped objects. Even a small item such as a bolt has the potential to kill someone if dropped from high enough. The hierarchy of control is a simple and effective tool to use when considering any scope of works. Is the work necessary? Can it be done by an alternate method (e.g. a drone)? What engineering controls could be put in place to minimise the risk? What are the administrative controls? And finally PPE, the last line of defence. Rope access, when undertaken to IRATA or comparable industry standards, is a safe system of work. It involves proper planning, risk assessments, and documented procedures. The management of Ossian Group have come-up through the IRATA system, and believe it to set the industry standard. We take safety very seriously, and are continuously looking for ways to minimise risk for our clients.