COMMENT | Rope’s unique role in property
Properties that require maintenance or repair come in all shapes and sizes, writes Matthew Lavery of Orb Rope Access. Hard-to-reach places can present a major headache to property owners who need work to be completed quickly and cost-effectively.
It’s no surprise then that gaining access to some areas of buildings requires a more considered approach than defaulting to traditional methods such as scaffolding and Mobile Elevated Working Platforms.
Rope access is a versatile, cost-effective alternative to traditional forms of access and has been gaining momentum in construction.
I established Orb Rope Access after spending 10 years in The Royal Marines, swapping the military for a diversity of projects including bat surveys and unblocking nuclear power station inlet pipes. I’ve seen rope access grow in popularity and reputation in recent years, but I find many still don’t understand the role and value that rope access can add.
What is rope access?
Rope access enables workers to carry out maintenance or repairs on difficult-to-reach locations of a building without the use of scaffolding, cradles or other industrial equipment. Contrary to some misconceptions, it is not simply abseiling buildings and hanging around!
Rope access companies assist with a wide range of jobs including cleaning, building inspection, painting, signage installation, devegetation, pest control and confined space entry and rescue.
Saving money with rope access
Compared with traditional forms of access, rope access is a cost-effective option.
The supply and construction of scaffolding incurs considerable cost. MEWPs such as cherry pickers and scissor lifts are expensive to commission. It takes time to close roads if needed and in some cases the client will need council permission.
On the rare occasion that this is required for rope access, in almost every instance the closure is required for a much smaller area and for less time.
The challenge of confined spaces
Jobs such as the cleaning or inspection of structures and confined spaces such as silos, tunnels, the inside of industrial chimneys, vessels, penstocks, tower structures and wind turbines can only be undertaken by rope access. The tougher the challenge, the more rope access earns its stripes!
There are certifications in this area – we are a High Risk Confined Space Entry Team as well as a High Risk Rescue Team.
Using rope access, technicians can also get close to delicate sections of listed buildings to carry out work with care and sensitivity.
An example is the work we carried out at Sizergh Castle in Cumbria. We were asked to complete slate repairs, clean gutters and carry out a downpipe inspection on this 14th century, Grade I-listed building belonging to the National Trust. Some parts were over 500 years old, so we needed to draw on our vast experience of working on heritage buildings to ensure that no damage was caused by the maintenance.
The National Trust didn’t want scaffolding on site in case it damaged the structure and put visitors off from visiting the gardens. The advantage of rope access was that our technicians were out of sight while they carried out essential maintenance.
Sustainability is a major consideration in our everyday practices. Fortunately, rope access companies travel light. There is no requirement for the transportation of large equipment and, unlike the machinery used in traditional methods of working at height, rope access doesn’t need petrol, oil or electricity. Technicians therefore leave a minimal footprint on the surrounding environment.
The reputation of rope access for safety and versatility is well known within the construction industry. Orb Rope Access is a member of the Industrial Rope Access Trade Association which sets standards, safety guidelines and assesses its members.
All rope access technicians must be trained and assessed in accordance with the IRATA International Training, Assessment and Certification Scheme, thereby following the International Code of Practice.
The versatility of using rope access also allows for projects in hazardous conditions to be undertaken safely using expert techniques and IRATA training.
It is far quicker to install and dismantle rope access systems than scaffolding platforms or cranes. Because scaffolding takes up so much room, permits are always required which can cause weeks of delays, whereas for rope access we can turn it around much quicker and be on site for a shorter period of time.
Allied London benefited recently from this for the historic St John’s ABC building in Manchester city centre.
We were asked to paint some rendered sections on this modern building that houses creative industries. After the initial rendering we snagged most of the building to coincide with the main contractor completing the major works, and the imminent closure of the site. The snagging included concrete repairs, render splash removal, render painting, render repairs, window sealants, expansion joint inspection, vent installation and a builder’s clean.
Rope access was the best option for this work, as access time, space and money were all limiting factors. Due to the building’s city centre location, moving large plant on and off site would have been expensive and slow, requiring road closures and night work. Using rope access to reach all areas lowered the client’s cost and avoided the inconvenience of accommodating large machinery and closing off sections of the pavements outside the building.
Orb Rope Access is based in Lancashire and is a team of specialists in working at height. As an IRATA member company, Orb Rope Access has been fully audited and certified with the highest level of health and safety specifications. The company is approved as working to recognised industry standards.
- Matthew Lavery is the founder and director of Orb Rope Access