Not such a tall order

03 September 2018

The thought of abseiling down a building may sound terrifying to most people, but here Pete Whalen, managing director at TechServe Solutions, explains why it is one of the safest and most effective methods for cleaning windows and buildings

When it comes to working at heights, particularly in hard to reach areas, rope access, also known as abseiling, is one of the safest and most efficient methods for window cleaning and building maintenance. Rope access technicians are supported by industrial static rope, from which they are suspended by a harness. This allows them to descend, ascend and traverse ropes to access the correct position, and work while suspended by their harness.

As well as its versatility in reaching difficult to access areas, the work can be carried out cost effectively, as the man hours to complete the work are reduced compared to traditional access methods and there is no requirement to hire or transport costly equipment, such as elevated work platforms or scaffold. If there is a change in the schedule, due to the weather or changing work priorities, rope access cleaning or maintenance can simply be rescheduled, with none of the logistical or financial issues associated with equipment hire.

Rope access systems are established and dismantled very quickly compared to traditional access methods. This results in less interference with other facilities operations meaning less disruptions, minimised downtime, and a safer work environment for everyone. It is also unobtrusive, with no equipment occupying pavements or road sides and environmentally friendly, as there is minimal footprint on the surrounding environment compared to traditional methods and there is no requirement for petrol, oil, or electricity to access even the highest or tightest areas.

IRATA procedures

The primary objective when using rope access methods is to carry out the work efficiently, with minimal accidents, incidents or dangerous occurrences. To ensure a safe system of work is maintained at all times, whilst avoiding damage to property or harm to the environment, careful planning and documented risk assessments are undertaken for each operation. IRATA (Industrial Rope Access Trade Association) International has a continuously evolving regime of work procedures that members are required to follow, and which are monitored for compliance to ensure that a safe system of work is established and maintained. 

All technicians working within the industry are required to be trained and assessed in accordance with the IRATA Training, Assessment and Certification Scheme. After training, the technicians undertake an independent assessment and, if successful, are registered with IRATA and issued a log book and identification card. This approach, together with evolutions in equipment, ensures that the technique is very safe.

Technicians can apply rope access techniques to a wide range of environments, and they are particularly useful in difficult to access atria, confined spaces and complicated structures. Powered access platforms provide safety at height, but their size and restrictive mobility mean that they are often not the best solution in these types of area. The technicians have a close attention to detail, which means they will report back on any issues they notice, allowing appropriate action to be taken, even if they are not related to their current task.

The Hilton Liverpool City Centre Hotel has a curved design that represents the meandering River Mersey. A cradle system is installed on the roof, but maintenance problems some years ago, meant that an alternative solution for window cleaning and building maintenance was required. Abseiling was identified as the best solution, and TechServe Solutions has been using this technique ever since. A combination of the cradle tracks and the building structure are used for anchor points, allowing access to all areas of the building and ensuring that everything is maintained in top condition.

Access all areas

In addition to window and building cleaning, rope access offers benefits for many associated services, such as building maintenance, building surveys, such as thermal imaging to identify water leaks or air leaks in windows, and building repair. It is also used extensively to install pest prevention measures, such as netting, and for rigging for events, the siting of banners and signage. Confined space access allows the maintenance of industrial chimneys, domed roofs and ducting, and its versatility means it is often used for construction assistance for uniquely shaped structures such as stadia and spires.