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Working At Height

Published: 01st May 2010

Why Rope Access? Today, more than ever, operational costs of companies in industries such as; (petro) chemical, oil and gas, power and energy, nuclear, civil or construction are more scrutinised than at any time in the past 10 years.

As a result of either, the economic down turn or fluctuating oil prices, all budgets, let alone preventative maintenance budgets are frequently being reduced or delayed entirely. The impact of course of delaying preventative maintenance is that it ceases to become preventative, and unavoidably escalates eventually into full scale reactionary maintenance at inevitably higher costs. The epitome therefore of a false economy is the postponement of preventative maintenance because of budget.

Often the largest part of a maintenance budget will be apportioned to how to access the areas in question for maintenance to commence.  Traditionally scaffolding would have been a time consuming and extremely costly way to start any job, with excessive outlay in time and money before the maintenance has even started.   This is where Rope Access can make a difference.   Rope Access, if carried out correctly and in accordance with recognized Health and Safety standards, will provide companies with a quick (minimal mobilization and demobilization time), efficient and even more importantly cost effective solution that will minimize a company’s operational downtime and get the job done.

Obvious advantages and benefits will of course include;

• Rapid set-up and dismantling, far outweighing that of conventional scaffolding

• Cost effective compared with traditional access methods

• Save Time as well as money

• Minimal disruption to building occupants, pedestrians and traffic flow.

• No security risk on site with all equipment removed overnight

• No structure that might allow criminal use or vandalism.

IRATA & the History of the Industry

Rope Access as we know it today started in the early to mid 1980’s using a system developed earlier by rock climbers and cavers.  The system was and still is extremely safe and reliable; however, traditionally it was largely based on a single rope strategy.  To make it appropriate for work at a height and acceptable to industry in general, safety standards were reviewed and the original system was further developed to include a second security rope, so the system now had two levels security.

In 1987, six companies started the world's first rope access trade association, which was subsequently named, the UK's Industrial Rope Access Trade Association (IRATA). The UK's Government health and safety authority, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), were fully involved from the outset in this initiative and were a prime mover in ensuring that rope access as a system would be governed by the strictest of safety standards.

Each individual IRATA member is regularly and routinely audited by an independent third party auditor to ensure adherence to procedure and to allow continued qualification.  In addition to individual compliance, every IRATA member company is obliged to work in accordance with the conditions laid down in the Guidelines for safe working.   As a result IRATA Rope Access companies hold an exemplary safety record, as a direct result of their rigorous adherence to various safety characteristics. Staggeringly they collectively register in excess of 6 Million worked hours a year with no reporting of any major or fatal accidents since inception.

As of 2010 IRATA currently recognises only 250 certified members worldwide and only 7 of them are registered in the Middle East.

A Wide Range of Disciplines

IRATA teams provide technicians with qualifications to abseil, thus providing safe means of access, however there are many disciplines needed in the range of technicians in a rope access company to fulfill the myriad of skills required once access is achieved.  Technicians need to major in skills that enable to work in the following areas.

Inspection/Testing of Structures Structural Surveys Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) Various Maintenance and Repair, including Localised Concrete Repair Sealant Installation and Re-instatement Secondary Fixings Replacement Cladding and Glazing Cleaning and Painting Jet spray, grit blasting and three-tool method Spray Painting Roller/brush Painting Full surface Preparation Facilities Management Building Services General Window Cleaning Glazing Inspection Replacement and Repair Services Repair Fitting and Maintenance Pest Control Façade Survey, Coating, inspection and maintenance Banner and Sign Erection Geotechnical/Civil Engineering Permanent Rock Anchorage Soil Nailing Sprayed Concrete Rock fall Prevention Meshing Pressure Pointing

Planning for Safety

With such a diverse range of areas, it is mandatory to plan, organize and manage any work as such so there will be a more than adequate margin towards safety to diminish any risks to personnel, third parties, equipment and/or property. To this end, it is fundamental that appropriate risk assessments, method statements and health and safety plans are in place before any work takes place:

• Appropriate access methods are chosen to carry out the work;

• Personnel have a suitable attitude/aptitude for the required scope;

• Personnel are trained and qualified as per applicable legislation;

• Competent and adequate Management and supervision is in place;

• Appropriate PPE is available and used;

• Tools and equipment are fit for use and purpose.

To select the appropriate access method, professional risk assessment procedures are utilized to identify the hazards and to assess the risks associated with the company activities. This is in order to eliminate or at least reduce the potential effect of the hazards to an acceptable level. Hazard identification and risk assessment is a requirement and an integral part of the safe working practices. Briefly, assessment procedures require at least 3 stages of hazard identification and risk assessment to be conducted:

Stage 1: Risk Assessment normally takes place at the office with technical, operational, safety and customer representatives. The specific activities of the scope of work will be assessed with a view to specifying controls and safety measures necessary to reduce all foreseeable risks to  an acceptable level as part of the client’s (project) SHE plan.

Stage 2: Risk Assessment normally takes place at the worksite and reviews, updates may add to the stage 1 risk assessment: Job-Specific Safe Job Analyze Procedure (RW-SJA-01). The stage 2 risk assessment benefits from first hand knowledge of the current state of the worksite, team input, concurrent activities etc. Stage 2 is the appropriate stage to introduce and discuss rescue and casualty recovery issues specific to the worksite. This stage of the risk assessment is formally documented and sent to Eindhoven base on completion.

Stage 3: Risk assessment takes the form of Tool Box Meetings: pre-shift briefings during which hazards are reviewed, control measures are confirmed and all concerns are addressed before proceeding to work. Stage 3 risk assessments may take place every shift and only new hazards or controls need to be added to the stage 2 record.

Given the perceived potential risks involved in the use of the Rope Access, special procedures have been designed for the recruitment of the personnel that would be engaged in rope access. It is vital to ensure that personnel have the right aptitude and or attitude required for this challenging and specialist work. Therefore special demands have been outlined that are adhered to at all times.

To assure medical fitness, people must be examined for physical competence. New personnel will have to meet the minimum requirements that have been outlined.  Newly certified personnel will never work alone or added to teams that already have trainees within the team. For each project it must decided whether there is sufficient experience available within the team and whether or not the level 1 represents any danger to himself and/or others.

To ensure understanding of the principles and procedures of operations, level 1 trainee will be required to work through an induction period. To ensure improvement in the trainee’s ability during this period, he will be supervised at all times by experienced Rope Access Technicians under the “buddy system” and restricted to guard duties, general assistance or easier rope work until the supervisor judges them competent to undertake more extensive duties.

An inexperienced team member should not be appointed as the sole stand-by man if, in this role, he may be required to implement a recovery system with which he is not fully conversant. On a three-man team this permits a maximum of one trainee.  Experienced technicians have successfully completed an induction period at Level 1, or have obtained Level 2 training course and are considered competent in all rope access situations e.g. Capable of rigging ropes and recovery systems, work site organization, and appropriate legislation.

Rope access supervisors must have extensive and varied field experience and can be considered competent to look after other team members.

Education & Training

To assure all personnel are fully up to date with the latest legislation, equipment innovation etc. comprehensive training must be given at all levels.

Another crucial aspect in utilizing rope access is the actual qualification of the personnel to execute the scope of work according specifications.  In the early days of rope access, operatives were usually from a climbing or caving background, who had to learn the work skills. Now training programs  are available where professionals are taught the skills of IRATA rope access. What follows is a dedicated trainee scheme of training and supervision that allows trainee technicians to get the required rope access experience.  At the end, any work should only be carried out in a reliably safe manner where people are competent, suitably trained and experienced.

For the actual rope access training there are three levels of rope technician. The criteria for achieving these levels of competence are detailed in IRATA's General Requirements for Certification. All personnel engaged in industrial rope access must be IRATA qualified or equivalent to one the following three qualification levels:

Level 1 – (Trainee) rope access technician

Level 2 - Lead rope access technician

Level 3 – Supervisor/ Senior rope access technician

Level 1 - Rope access technicians have attended a basic Level 1 training course and passed an independent assessment. He will be constantly supervised and assessed until he has demonstrated professional ability and a responsible attitude whilst working at this level. Level 1 technicians are deemed competent by virtue of training and assessment to participate in rescues. A level 1 technician can terminate a rope access operation on safety grounds.

Level 2 - Lead rope access technicians will have logged at least 1000 working hours at Level 1, attended a Level 2 training course and passed an independent assessment. Level 2 technicians can set up a worksite under the guidance of a rope access supervisor. He may perform rescues at the supervisor' s discretion. A level 2 technician can terminate a rope access operation on safety grounds.

Level 3 Supervisors/Senior rope access technicians will have logged at least 1000 working hours at Level 2, attended a Level 3 training course and passed an independent assessment. Level 3 technicians can supervise worksites and determine access-rigging requirements. He may organize, participate in or supervise all relevant legislation, permit systems, client liaison and rescues.

Alongside the personnel training, the training must ensure appropriate training is given in the correct use of tools and other work equipment. It is important that all tools and equipment are suitable for the work intended and compatible with rope access work. In particular, they should not present a danger to the safe operation or integrity of the suspension system.

Where tools and equipment are carried by the operatives, appropriate steps should be taken to prevent them being dropped or falling on to people and installations below. Work using rope access techniques is generally more exposed than most other work methods and requires the worker to be in close proximity to the work itself and to any power source being used. As a result, certain tools, which can be used quite safely with conventional access methods, could case risks to the operative and/or their suspension system, unless great care is taken. In many cases, the greatest danger is of dropping the tools on to people and installations below.

Therefore, to guard against this, small tools such as inspection equipment, drills, hammers, etc. weighing up to 8 kg, are securely attached to the operative’s harness by lanyards. Equipment weighing more than 8 kg should be fitted with a separate suspension system secured to an independent anchor. Anchors and suspension ropes used for equipment should be clearly identified to avoid confusion with those used to support operatives. Using Rope Access it is important that equipment is suspended correctly balanced so that it can be positioned and moved easily.

What must be remembered is that when using rope access, emergency assistance can often not reach the location. Rope access teams must have self-contained rescue capability to recover team members to the identified safe location. This will include a dedicated rescue kit appropriate to cover potential rescue scenarios; including sufficient ropes, rigging, rescue hard wear and First aid kit.

The interface for handling casualties is discussed with site managers and required emergency services. The Rope access supervisor has the expertise to recover a casualty on ropes to the nearest safe area and the most suitable site for medical assistance or stretcher team access should be discussed.  The Rope access supervisor will determine an appropriate rescue system based on an assessment of the risks and the layout of the work site before work commences.

The RAT members must be fully briefed and conversant with the planned rescue system and technique. The rescue equipment shall either be pre-assembled, pre-installed or checked and ready to hand for immediate deployment as appropriate.


Billy Harkin is the Managing Director of Megarme

Megarme is both the largest and the longest serving Middle East IRATA member.  Megarme, a gulf based IRATA member established 1993 is a professional Inspection, Repair and Maintenance provider that specializes in working at high and or difficult accessible locations. Using various access systems they search for the best access means under specified criteria.  Their upfront planning and organization ensures the most direct methodologies to get the job done in the safest possible way.

Rope Access Projects

All of this dedication to Safety, Standards and professionalism of course has ensured that as pioneers of Rope Access in the Region, Megarme has been fortunate enough to work on many of the Middle East’s and world’s most prestigious landmarks over the past 17 years.  In addition to the many high profile and mission critical Oil and Gas shutdowns, some of the most iconic Civil projects that have engaged us and utilized our services have been;

Burj Al Arab (Construction & Maintenance)

Atlantis Hotel (Fire damage repair and Opening Ceremony preparation)

Yas Hotel & Marina @ Formula One Track (Grid shell Light Installation & Maintenance)

Ferrari Experience (Funnel Installation/Rollercoaster maintenance)

Dubai Metro (Construction and Maintenance)

Burj Khalifa (Post construction Handover & opening ceremony preparation)

Dubai International Airport (construction and ongoing maintenance)

Bahrain World Trade Center (post construction handover)

Raffles Hotel Dubai (construction and ongoing maintenance)

Emirates Towers (construction and ongoing maintenance)

Fairmont Hotel (construction and ongoing maintenance)

Aldar HQ – aka The Disc (post construction handover)

Contact Details

Tel: +971 4 8135290

For information on height safety equipment visit

Published: 01st May 2010 in Health and Safety Middle East

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Amel Vriesman