As rope access specialists, we often have contractors and trainees ask us “is rope access actually that safe?” So let’s make this clear right off the bat: yes, rope access is very safe.
Perhaps the fact that it has been defined as ‘potentially hazardous’ by the Health and Safety Executive deters them from working in rope access or employing rope access workers. However, this term simply means that without any precautions in place there would be a risk of serious injury or death from falling. In practice, there are many precautions in place during rope access work.
We also understand that dangling from a skyscraper with nothing but open air between your feet and the ground seems dangerous. But that’s just when you take it all at face value – trust us, it’s actually a lot safer than it looks. In fact, rope access has a better track record of safety than any other means of access in the work at height industry, and that just says it all. In this blog post, we demonstrate how rope access has achieved such an exemplary safety record, and hopefully dispel certain myths surrounding this supposedly dangerous industry.
As with most jobs, especially those in the industrial sector, you must accept that accidents do happen. Given the degree of risk when working at height, the rope access industry is among the most tightly controlled in the industry. We have plenty of rules and regulations in place to reduce the likelihood of accidents, and these are set in stone by the 2005 Work at Height Regulations.
Any room for human error must be removed before the work begins and, while working, many precautions must be taken to guarantee the safety of both technicians and the general public. But the legislation doesn’t just ensure that all workers are properly trained and up to scratch on their safety requirements; they also require employers to take a long list of precautions and responsibilities as regards the safety of their team. For a general overview of work at height legislation, have a read of our previous blog post.
The International Rope Access Trade Association (IRATA) is responsible for directing and regulating the training of all workers looking to earn qualifications in the industry. Such training is designed with high safety standards in mind, so all those who are qualified understand the risks and regulations associated with working at height. Trainees not only gain a deep understanding of the current legislation, but also a working knowledge of rescue procedures and hazard perception.
IRATA certifications are available in three different levels, and they are a necessary requirement for all working rope access technicians. Graduating to higher levels requires a certain amount of time spent on the ropes, with each hour being logged and signed off by a qualified supervisor. For instance, an IRATA Level 2 qualification requires a minimum of 1,000 hours and 12 months of work, so those with more responsibilities are guaranteed to have more experience.
There are certain misconceptions about industrial work lacking in professionalism and tact, and these are quite often hard to shake. But given the high-risk nature of the work, our workers can’t afford to be anything but professional at all times. This includes:
- Working under constant supervision. Supervisors are present on every rope access job, and they’re responsible for keeping safety and protocol in check at all times. They must be fully qualified, with years of experience on the ropes and an unbreaking work ethic.
- Getting the job done. You know, rope access workers aren’t just in it for the impressive selfies or the incredible views. The primary concern is getting the job done to the highest standard and in the safest way possible.
- Always working in pairs. Technicians never work alone, so there is always another worker present should their assistance be required.
Don’t be fooled, rope access involves a lot more than just a rope – our technicians aren’t swinging around unequipped like Indiana Jones! For starters, workers are required to use two separate ropes, one of which acts as a backup system in addition to the main working line. Each rope is rigged to a different anchor point, so if one of them is compromised the other will provide a sturdy reserve. In other words, the safety of a rope access technician doesn’t just rely on their primary equipment: there is always a backup.
Before and after each use, all equipment is rigorously tested and inspected by a trained professional to ensure that any defects are promptly addressed. As such, thanks in part to the strict safety culture integral to rope access work, technicians should never be put in a position where their equipment presents a hazard. It might take a bit of getting used to at first (what with all those primal instincts), but usually workers and trainees quickly learn to trust their equipment.
For more information on the IRATA training courses and services we offer, get in touch with a member of the MCL Height Safety team and we’d be delighted to help.