Established in 2004, during the real estate and tourism boom in the UAE, Grako LLC specialises in cleaning at heights. Over the years, the company has established itself as one of the most preferred service providers by the high rise building owners and asset managers in the Gulf region. Grako’s clients include The Dubai Mall, world’s tallest building Burj Khalifa, the Dubai World Trade Centre, Mall of the Emirates, Mirdiff City Centre, The Address Hotels + Resorts, ADFC (Abu Dhabi Financial Centre) in Sowwah Island, and Marina Square in Reem Island. “Our success has mainly been due to our ability to provide total cleaning solutions considering the budgetary constraints of clients and varying design features,” said Alain S. El-Tawil, Head of Sales and Marketing and Managing Partner, Grako. He shared with Clean India Journal how his company has been evolving new techniques to meet challenges involved in “going up and down” heights following the Government regulations and overcoming weather and architectural restrictions.
Grako was declared “Cleaning Company of the year 2011” at the Middle East FM Awards…
This yearly award is given out by the Middle East FM Association to projects judged on very strict criteria. We received this award after three attempts. With big projects like Burj Khalifa and The Dubai Mall, we are able to document our capabilities. The performance has been judged on the basis of what we do for the environment and for the customer and not just on the parameters of cleanliness. For example, we use the simple rope access system for cleaning the façade of Burj Khalifa and the chemicals that we use are also biodegradable.
Do you combine the cradle system with rope access?
Currently, we are using the rope access system only. In fact, I went up the Burj Khalifa myself to feel what our cleaning staff members go through when they reach the peak of the tower. The elevator goes up 160 floors and from there till the peak it is another 60 floors climb, similar to climbing a mountain and not just a normal ladder. It’s much more complicated and the cleaning staff have to secure themselves to avoid falls. In addition, we have put a rescue plan in place. Only few can do this job, but my people do it four times a year. They go all the way up and come all the way down. We follow the UK-based IRATA (International Rope Access Trade Association) guidelines. IRATA certifies companies and people using ropes for cleaning. This is not an easy certification to get. Our people on the ropes are trained and IRATA certified. In addition, I train every new person for more than six months. They are trained in buildings of lower heights and gradually led to work on Burj Khalifa, where they may have to be on ropes for around two years, before they are physically, mentally and psychologically able to go on the building. They are very highly paid and get a lot of bonuses, in addition to the regular packages. Actually, Burj Khalifa is not a straight building. If you look at it from the top or from the bottom or look at the drawings, the building looks like a flower. It is complicated as you cannot come from top to bottom in one shot. You have to go to different locations on different terraces, and continuously go around cleaning. You just cannot complete one side and then move to the other side; you have to do all the sides together. But we have been doing it now for about two years and we are very happy with the results. Ten cleaners coming down together in ropes to clean an entire area helps bring down the cost too.
You should be using different techniques…
We have an entire range of high level access solutions – rope access, BMU techniques, cradle, machines, pure water pole system, etc. We don’t work on the floor, only on windows, glasses and facades. Pure water system is used when the terrace has glass or canopy and rope or cradle cannot be used. In certain building we have to mix three or four techniques.
Grako provides additional services such as mechanical, electrical and plumbing in areas that require rope access.
How do you make available machines in multiple locations?
If a building already has BMU installed, we have certified operators for cleaning or for doing the electrical work. Since we work on different sites and the requirements are varied. It may not be worth investing Dh1.5 million on access machines, if we use them only on two sites. But, we own some access machines and have partners who supply these machines on rent on the basis of the location and height of the building.
Whether it is equipment or rope, it gets logged into a data system from the day it is bought. So from that point of procurement to the point of disposal, we have full history of the equipment and ropes. These are inspected every six months, the lifespan logged into the book and recorded as per IRATA standards. If people think that rope access is very easy, it is not so. There’s lot of paper work involved too. The harness contains around 50 items which have to be numbered and logged. It has to be inspected every time it is taken out of the office and brought back. We also have to follow certain methods while disposing off the rope after its lifespan.
Your cleaning schedules vary from project to project.
Today, most of the prestigious projects in Dubai are with us. Each of them has different maintenance cycle. It takes three months Burj Khalifa takes three months for completing one cleaning cycle. However, certain areas fall into a weekly or monthly cycle. Though Grako is primarily responsible for external areas, certain high level areas above 2.5m inside the building too come under our care.
The design of the building plays a role…
Architects design very complex structures, but often miss out on the access and maintenance aspects. This is more pronounced in the older buildings. It is very important to consider the points of access at heights in the design stage itself. When buildings do not have the design support, we depend on natural ankle points where we can connect our ropes. In case, if there are no natural ankle points on the roof, we need to install them. But this is something we have to be very careful with because when we install those ankle bolts, the client has to get a third party approval. These will be inspected every six months.
I cannot bring someone wherever, whenever or from whichever country and within one week put him on ropes. It takes time to build up his experience, his confidence to go up and down a building and do the whole cleaning job.
Do you intend to enter India?
I would love to do business in India. The country has the potential, buildings, people and ‘money’. It is a huge market, but it’s complicated. We bring people from India to do the job here. We need to be ready mentally and financially, and find the right people to work within India. The problem is one has to tackle the quality aspect. The main reason we are successful here is because we have all the certifications and quality procedures are met; we have all the experience. In India, the regulations for working on heights are not strictly followed. The safety is at risk. I have seen people go up without any harness and without any training. In UAE, Health, Safety & Environment is of the highest importance now. Every site has one of its HSE officer posted always.