Rope Access Systems
Industrial rope access provides a method of work that is flexible, safe and extremely efficient for façade cleaning systems
Drive through any big city and you will be in awe of the towering architectural wonders with glass facades. Your awe may quickly turn to dismay when the slanting rays of the sun reveal the truth about just how clean or unclean the glass is.
Façade cleaning is a monumental task. This can be simplified by making the right choice of techniques and equipment to do the jobs. As with most complex tasks there are varied options. Solutions for façade cleaning are many and may be selected to suit the site. Rope access cleaning is suited to a wide range of client requirements. Buildings can be cleaned without expensive cradle equipment and with minimal disturbance to building occupants, pedestrians and vehicle traffic flow. The main advantage is that in buildings where access is impossible by any other means, rope access is the only solution.
For Facility Managers, rope access is rapidly becoming the preferred choice, regardless of whether the building has an integral cradle system or not. Yearly maintenance and certification of expensive mechanical equipment skyrockets the cost of the cradle system and limited budgets allocated for high level window cleaning call for a compromise. The ideal solution is Rope Access. Apart from being cost-effective, rope access boasts the highest safety statistics in the entire access industry.
Features of the Rope Access System
Cost – This benefit applies to installation, on-going maintenance, testing and inspection. Even the most complex rope access anchorage system will probably be between 10 and 25% of cost an equivalent cradle system. Consequently, it is also cheaper to insure the system.
Aesthetics – This is important from the point of view of designers and architects. It is easier to disguise a rail or series of bolts against a skyline or façade.
Overall Versatility – Sloping, glazing or fabric is difficult for cradles to deal with, especially if they are only part of an overall drop i.e. there is a change from vertical to angled part way down (indeed any change of angle in or out).
A well designed rope access system can use structural features or members, not necessarily close to the edge of a building. Also, with proper rigging a greater area of the building can be accessed.
Flexibility in the number of operatives on a site at any one time is another plus point. The number of anchors available is the only factor that normally limits the number of rope access operatives. This has distinct advantages by shortening the time needed for the use of temporary redirection and completely closing other features. It could also be argued that the less time an area has persons working at height means that there are less people moving underneath and therefore the overall risk is reduced for all concerned.
Quality or standard of cleaning – In the majority of cases, rope access puts the operative in closer contact with the building fabric, and should be. This close contact and greater personal resistance to the natural reactive force, allows for increased pressure and focus on dirt, thus ensuring a better quality of cleaning.
Speed of Cleaning – Setting up, moving of principal anchorage area and de-mounting time for a rope access system is quicker.
Movement on the task is quicker per person. This aspect also has the added benefit of reducing the time each worker is exposed to height, giving a time- weighed, reduced risk benefit. Added to this, is the reduced overall disruption time to the building users like, entrances and exits being blocked, cleaners peering in at office workers and vice versa and car parking spaces being occupied by exclusion zones.
Mounting and dismounting – Rope access has the advantage that the system can be fully and safely exited at the bottom of a building, often over an obstruction, leaving nothing but ropes behind.
Inspection and maintenance of access equipment – There isn’t much to a rope access system that can be considered as a permanent feature other than the anchorage system itself. This element rarely has any moving or electrical parts.
Rope access systems do not usually require the provision of electricity (or any other power supply) at the point of work. This would represent both a cost saving and a reduced risk.
Safety – Rope access is statistically proven to be a safe form of access. It will stand up to comparison with any other means of access and prove as safe or even safer.
Rope access operators, through the intensity of their training programme, would have a greater awareness of all working-at-height issues thus adding to overall working at height safety on a building.
Rescue – All rope access teams have the built-in ability for self-rescue. The risks of suspension trauma are clear (especially to Insurance Companies!) and rope access systems tackle this issue head on. Each assignment needs to be preceded by a complete site-specific Health and Safety review supported by documentation stating individual method and assessment of risk factors.
Cradle breakdowns usually involve the assistance of a third party e.g. the Fire Brigade. There is also the additional risk resulting from increased waiting and exposure time for the trapped or injured cradle operator.
Comfort – Being seated in a rope access seat and harness certainly provides a feeling of comfort.
Containment of materials – If we have adequately covered the safe ‘containment’ of operatives successfully, then the issue of materials is equally important. For general cleaning, the perception that large quantities of water and cleaning fluid are needed to provide a quality clean is a mistaken one. Low quantities of liquid can suffice for fairly large areas of cleaning. As a thumb rule, three litres of cleaning mix weighing 2.5kg will clean a full 2m wide drop of an 18-storey building.
There are several advantages associated with industrial abseiling, compared to other methods of access. Essentially, when they all come together, the final benefit is a saving (of up to 75%)…. the higher we go, the more you save!
Rope access is quick and flexible and does not require lengthy installation periods.
No flat terrain or pavement permit required. Unlike mobile platforms, a large, flat, open area beneath the work site is not needed. It can be operated legally and safely without wasting time for starting up operations.
Industrial rope access is statistically the safest method of working at a height. Once the working day is over, there is no system of access in position, which eliminates a serious security risk.
When work is not in progress, there is no evidence to be seen. Even during the largest projects, the effect on the surrounding and its occupants is almost zero.
Haroon A Shaikh
National Head – High Rise and Maintenance
PCI Environmental Services