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Keeping up with London's growing skyline

18 May 2018

It was recently announced that by 2020 there will be 18 new skyscrapers in London. Their unique designs will not only redefine the famous skyline, but will also create a new set of challenges for the window cleaning companies that have been tasked with servicing these buildings. This includes ensuring workers remain safe whilst cleaning buildings with varying and unusual structures. Gareth Thomas, managing director at SWC, explains more

Over the past twenty years, London’s skyline has changed dramatically thanks to the erection of iconic buildings such as Heron Tower, the Gherkin and the Shard. And, it would seem that the city isn’t done yet. It was recently announced that there are 18 new buildings under construction that will reshape the city’s skyline by 2020. This includes the 236m-high ‘Flower Tower’ in Canary Wharf, which will be Europe’s tallest residential building, ‘The Scalpel’, which will tower 190m over the city’s insurance district and, the Can of Ham, which will open in the heart of the city in 2019.

It is inevitable that skylines will change as companies reinvent their office spaces and make the most of the already limited space. However, as architects and construction firms vie for these elite projects, buildings are becoming increasingly advanced in their design and make-up. Whilst this looks aesthetically fantastic and ensures that London’s buildings remain on the world map, it creates a number of challenges for the window cleaning companies that are tasked with keeping these high-profile giants in their best condition.

The first is the complex nature of the task at hand. The majority of these buildings are exceptionally high and are often unusual shapes – for example the ‘Walkie Talkie’ curves in on itself. Gaining access to all the exterior parts of these buildings can often be challenging and require innovative, and often unique, solutions.

In addition, due to the high-risk nature of the work, safety is a big concern. Companies are being put under an increasing amount of pressure to complete jobs as quickly as possible and within budget. Ensuring this does not come at the cost of safety is of high importance.

Rope access techniques

One of the ways to overcome these is by joining a trade body, such as IRATA (International Rope Access Trade Association). Rope access techniques are the most common solution to projects that involve working on complex or old buildings. These buildings often have hard to reach areas where access equipment such as mobile elevated working platforms (MEWP’s) or towers are not an option, or don’t have building maintenance units installed. Workers will use a rope secured to an anchor to descend or ascend a building whilst supported by a harness.

Whilst this may seem unsafe and dangerous, the rigorous training undertaken by operatives, and strict regulations imposed by professional bodies like IRATA, can make it a safe and efficient solution. It allows companies to fully assess the task and work with the building management team to come up with an innovative solution for the problem.

At SWC, we recently joined IRATA as a Corporate Member and are already seeing the benefits both in our own business and for our clients. IRATA members have to follow a strict syllabus that delivers a commitment to safe working practices and in order to become a member, you have to prove that your company meets the high standards of safe rope access working. As a result, clients get peace of mind that the work being completed is compliant with all regulations and the company is providing a safe environment for the rope access team, and occupants of the building.

Moreover, being a member allows companies to tap into the association’s vast amount of experience, expertise and technical knowledge. For SWC, our IRATA membership has granted us access to a wider range of sites across the country, allowing us to bring our first-class solution to more companies.

In conclusion, as the design of buildings continue to be increasingly complex, the challenges facing rope access teams are going to become even greater. In my opinion, by educating companies and operatives about the procedures outlined by bodies such as IRATA, we will be able to provide safe and efficient solutions, regardless of the building.