Industrial Rope Access
An industrial rope access system is a work positioning system used for gaining access to, and working at, a workface, usually through vertically suspended ropes.
Industrial rope access, or, more specifically, ‘twin-rope’ access, is an important method for performing working at height activities and requires a high level of competency on the part of the user. Industrial rope access is a special kind of work positioning system that uses equipment to prevent a fall by vertically suspending a worker in a harness.
Industrial rope access utilises several important safety features that ensure workers exposing themselves to a height risk are protected:
Equipment & Operational Standards
Equipment used for industrial rope access systems should be designed, manufactured, selected, used and maintained in compliance with relevant standards.
There are standards for rope access methods as well as equipment performance criteria set out in theParts 1 & 2.
Additionally, the requirements of ASNZS 1891.4 Industrial Fall Arrest – Selection Use & Maintenance should be used as a reference as it describes the techniques that should be used when working using ‘working in suspension’ and ‘restraint-technique’.
The activities of rope access technicians in Australia are primarily covered through one major rope access organisation:
IRATA International have published extensive documents and guidance for industrial rope access training and operations, including safety notices and statistics; freely downloadable from its website.
Is Rope Access Safe?
The best way to answer this question is to examine the IRATA International Workplace Health & Safety (WASA Report) statistics as a consequence of working in rope access.
IRATA International keeps accurate details of all injuries and deaths on a global scale, through its IRATA Member Companies who are uphold strict audit standards and membership requirements. Before we explore the statistics, it is vital to make the distinction between an IRATA Member Company and a non-member rope access company.
An individual person who holds a current IRATA International qualification is not a member of IRATA. A worker may be trained and hold a IRATA International qualification and not work for an IRATA Member Company. An organisation may undertake rope access operations, employ IRATA trained technicians, but not hold IRATA membership.
IRATA International have a comprehensive membership process to two primary categories: Operations and Training. Companies can hold individual membership in these sectors, or both. IRATA requires that member companies work in accordance with the IRATA International Code of Practice (ICOP) and the Training, Assessment and Certification Scheme (TACS) and, by doing so, contribute to maintaining the prized safety record of the Association that is unmatched in the access industry; the details of Members’ operational safety records are required to be submitted on a quarterly basis and are independently audited on a three yearly cycle, along with internal audit and quality assurance requirements.
The IRATA International Regional Advisory Committee (RAC), IRATA Australasia are Member of the WAHA, and through this membership, individual IRATA Member Companies in Australia and New Zealand hold membership with the WAHA.
WAHA therefore, endorses the IRATA organisation and its methodologies to deliver a safe system of work, as a consequence of their international footprint, extensive training scheme and ongoing development of both training and operational requirements.
Some key highlights of the WASA are as follows:
Graph excerpt from the IRATA International Work and Safety Analysis 2021: https://irata.org/page/health-safety
Codes of Practice
IRATA International have their own operational code of practice:
IRATA International Code of Practice (ICOP)
There are no specific governmental regulatory requirements or guidelines on rope access; instead, the legal requirements are the same for fall arrest: a person must be deemed competent to perform the task.
As defined in the Code of Practice: Managing the Risk of Falls at Workplaces a competent person means a person who has acquired through training, qualification or experience the knowledge and skills to carry out the task. As rope access requires a high level of competency on the part of the user, competency is shown through maintaining a current and valid rope access qualification, such as IRATA, combined with the operatives LogBook which documents recent work signed off by an authorised person.
The published Codes of Practice by IRATA are useful resources and reference documents pertaining to the principles of managing height safety risks and fulfilling obligations with respect to the law. Of note are the IRATA ICOP Annexes, which provide a comprehensive and detailed insight into additional requirements for industrial rope access including operational guidelines.
Importantly, simply accessing these documents and adopting the methods is not in itself deemed sufficient for a person to work safely in rope access. They should obtain membership and training through a recognised IRATA Training Member Company to be tested and deemed competent prior to completing any work using these methods.
WAHA Members are also provided with more detailed information regarding design principles and installation guidelines for height safety systems, which is supplemented by providers of nationally recognised training. These guidelines are detailed in ‘publications’ sections in the website. For more information about membership, visit our Membership page.
IRATA issues Safety Notices on a regular basis, produced by IRATA Health and Safety Committee, to keep members and technicians abreast of issues of which they should be aware which have arisen out of incident reporting or feedback from members themselves.
In addition to Safety Notices, IRATA regularly produce smaller topic sheets, aimed at raising awareness of hazards that may be encountered in industrial rope access.
These can be viewed directly with IRATA: https://irata.org/publications
Safe Work Australia
Safe Work Australia released a Guide to managing risks of industrial rope access systems in June 2022.
The guide provides information on managing the risks associated with industrial rope access systems, including:
- selection and installation of anchors
- anchor access and layout
- anchor inspection and testing
- rigging techniques
- rope protection, and
- exclusion zones.
This guide is for:
- industrial rope access service providers
- building managers
- building owners
- building body corporates
- principal contractors, and
- other PCBSs at a workplace where an industrial rope access system is used.
This document is a guide only. It is not to be used as an industry code. It is a guidance document only, for asset owners and not technicians.