Explaining industrial rope access

What is Industrial Rope Access?

Industrial Rope Access is a proven method of achieving a safe work position at height or in areas of difficult access. It was initially developed from techniques used in caving to answer the need for a simple, safe and adaptable means of access with its first large scale use being for inspections on the oil and gas platforms of the North Sea. As its value as a work solution grew rope access has also developed onshore where it is to be seen undertaking all manner of work from high-rise window and facade cleaning and general maintenance to repair, geotechnical and inspection work on some of the world's most iconic structures.
Through IRATA International - the only worldwide association in the sector - rope access companies have delivered:
  • an exemplary safety record based on a commitment to thorough training and diligent operational procedures
  • a complete service that usually removes the need for the involvement of the majority of other access machinery or work equipment
  • a minimal environmental footprint and the ability to work without disrupting public access or other work nearby
The main features of rope access in operation are:
  • the IRATA rope access worker works from two ropes - a working rope and a back-up, safety rope - and is permanently attached to both
  • each rope has a separate anchorage point
  • in the unlikely event of the working rope becoming damaged or unusable, the safety rope prevents a fall
  • to prevent accidental dropping all tools of a suitable weight are attached to the technician at all times; heavier items are independently suspended.
  • a minimum of two technicians are required for any job so as to enable mutual surveillance - an extra safety feature
  • all IRATA technicians receive extensive training and independent assessment and are required to undergo re-training every three years
  • training includes rescue procedures even though IRATA has an unrivalled record of safe working
  • all equipment is regularly inspected and well maintained
  • IRATA training and operational work is conducted in line with Association Guidelines, wherever in the world it is conducted
  • IRATA training and operational work is conducted in line with Association Guidelines, wherever in the world it is conducted
  • these Guidelines have been endorsed by the Health and Safety Executive

What are falls from height?

Many work activities involve working at height. Working from ladders, scaffolds and platforms are obvious examples, but there are many more activities where people are required to work at height. Examples include working on roofs and over tanks, pits and structures. Even changing a ceiling light in an office involves working at heights.

Why are falls from height important?

Falls from height are responsible for many serious and fatal injuries every year. If you fall from a height above two metres, the likelihood is that you will sustain a serious injury.

Who is affected/most at risk of falls from height?

Many workers in maintenance and construction, but many other people in a variety of jobs could be at risk of falling from height at work. Examples include painters, decorators and window cleaners and those who undertake one-off jobs without proper training, planning or equipment

The main hazards associated with working at height are people falling, and objects falling onto people. These may occur as a result of inadequate edge protection, or poor securing of people or objects in storage.

What does the law say?

All employers have statutory and common-law obligations in relation to the health and safety of their employees and premises. There are elements of the following legislation that affects falls from height:

  • The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974
  • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
  • The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992
  • The Construction Health Safety and Welfare Regulations 1996
  • The Work at Height Regulations 2005 apply to all work at height where there is a risk of a fall liable to cause personal injury.
  • The Work at Height (Amendment) Regulations 2007apply to those who work at height providing instruction or leadership to one or more people engaged in caving or climbing by way of sport, recreation, team building or similar activities in Great Britain.

Good working at height practice

A risk assessment should be carried out before any work at height is undertaken. The assessment should highlight the measures that must be taken to ensure people are not at risk of falling from height. Consider the type of equipment to be used, much of which needs to handled by a competent person.