OSA Magazine Logo

Height Safety

Published: 10th Jun 2010 in OSA Magazine

Industrial rope access developments in Singapore and South East Asia

At the Construction Safety, Health and Security campaign in Singapore, the minister of State for Trade, Industry and Manpower announced key initiatives to raise the safety and health standards of the construction industry in Asia. The speech stressed the responsibility of all stakeholders in ensuring safety in the workplace.

At the meeting, the minister addressed the need for a Fall Protection Plan, highlighting that over the last three years Singapore’s construction and marine sectors accounted for more than 70% of the fall from height accidents. The HSE substantiated this claim reporting 34 fatalities in the six months to September 2008 for the sector including construction.


Falls from height are the largest cause of death at workplaces in Singapore in recent years. Simply put, one out of three deaths in the workplace was the result of a person falling from height, and many more are injured in this manner every year. 

The role of the management is crucial in ensuring the success of any safety programme. A committed management leading by example to promote safety in the workplace will drive the rest of the organisation to behave similarly, and over time the safety culture in the workplace will evolve so that every person takes it as his responsibility to ensure a safe and healthy workplace. 

Basic prevention includes discouraging unsafe practices among workers, which should never be condoned by the management. Should the management decide to disregard unsafe practices such as not wearing the appropriate fall protection system when required, operatives may be lead to believe that it is acceptable to engage in such practices. Over time, these unsafe practices may be unofficially incorporated into the work procedures, making it a norm.

Proper supervision of work

The supervision of work is important and should be carried out by an appointed and qualified supervisor. Without proper supervision, workers may violate rules and regulations or adopt unsafe practices and put themselves at risk. A buddy system should be encouraged so that operatives can help to remind and encourage each other on the safe work practices even in the absence of a supervisor.

Appropriate PPE

Workers should use safety equipment properly despite the inconvenience that may arise from its use. One common example of misuse is failing to anchor individual fall arrest systems, which can hinder workers from doing their work due to restricted movement. Hence, for convenience, some may choose not to secure themselves to an anchor point. Such undesired practices can also be due to the lack of knowledge on the dangers of their work and the importance of the individual fall arrest system. 

Proper use of equipment

Some incidents were caused by workers using uncertified equipment or equipment that had yet to be approved. One common example is using a safety barricade as a ladder to gain access to higher areas. Misusing equipment in this way poses a significant risk when it’s not used to carry out the intended functions it was designed for.

Safe route of access

One common unsafe practice noticed was the frequent use of unauthorised and often unsafe routes of access - 

Non Rope Access - in order to hasten the work.

Risk assessment

Prior to the start of work, conduct an adequate risk assessment to identify all potential hazards and the risks involved, which are often improperly assessed. 

It was brought to the attention of the WSH Council (Workplace Safety and Health) members that IRATA has never recorded a death while working on ropes in the 19 years of compiling its annual independently audited Work and Safety Analysis.  

To promote a higher standard of safety in the workplace, Singapore’s WSH Council worked with IRATA members together with Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on a code of practice on Safe Working at Height. The code includes the requirement for workplaces to implement a Fall Protection Plan. The plan systematically identified all fall hazards in the workplace and put into place preventative measures such as barricades and safety access points to and from work areas. 

To date, the HSE department is working closely with the local Singapore IRATA members in terms of work method enquiries and specifications for the approved PPE used by rope access contractors throughout Singapore.

At a workshop conducted by IRATA members in Singapore for the HSE Inspectorates from MOM held late last year, in conjunction with our very own technical day in Singapore on 26 and 27 December 2008, much positive feedback was received, and pictures were taken for Rope Access Standards and proper rigging systems, which were illustrations both for education and discussion purposes. It became referential criteria for 30 HSE inspectorates to deter safety breached issues and bad practice in Singapore.

Two lives were lost in two incidents involving falls from height within two days from 3 November 2008.

Case 1 - Fall through roof

A worker was found dead on the ground at the back of a factory unit. He had been assigned to repair the air conditioning condenser unit on the external wall of the factory. He tried to access the condenser unit by climbing out of the window. As he stepped on the roof, he immediately fell through the roofing material.

Case 2 - Fall from formwork

A worker was working on the formwork of a two storey detached house. While receiving a reinforcement bar from another worker, he lost his?balance and fell off the formwork to the ground below. He was pronounced dead on the arrival of the ambulance.

On December 2, 2008, a worker fell off the side of a vessel from a hanging scaffold.

The worker was dismantling the guardrails of the scaffold outside a door at the side of a vessel. His body was found eight hours later. 

An analysis report of 126 fall cases from working at height by the Ministry of Manpower Singapore from 2003 breaks down the contributing factors leading to them, with percentages given for various contributing factors

Lack of safe procedures - 43% 

Lack of proper use of individual fall arrest systems - 39% 

Poor working environment - 32% 

Inadequate fall prevention or protection system - 26% 

Safety violations - 20% 

Lack of supervision - 20% 

Lack of training and knowledge for task assigned - 14%

43% of the cases studied did not have proper safe work procedures in place, and workers were exposed to unnecessary risks which could have been avoided, or mitigated through proper planning. There is, therefore, a need to step up the industry’s adoption and implementation of safe work procedures, communicate them and ensure they are implemented. 

Improper use of individual fall arrest systems was identified as the second most common contributor in falls from height incidents, accounting for 49 cases from 126 reported.

This highlights the need for more effective education on the importance and proper use of appropriate PPE, as well as the need for more vigilant supervision of those working at height.

IRATA International work methods

Apart from the stringent work procedures, training and certification requirements adopted by IRATA. 

A rope access system actually consists of an access (sub) system and a back up (sub) system, which are used together. The access system provides the primary support for access, progress and work positioning. It comprises a working line and descending and ascending devices, which are attached to the working line and which are always connected to the rope access technician’s harness. This system of double protection, which was developed by IRATA international, is one of the key elements of a safe rope access system. 

Sometimes, rope access methods are used in conjunction with conventional suspended access equipment. In such cases the principle of double protection still applies to the rope access work. The anchors for rope access should be independent of the anchors for the conventional suspended access equipment. For the safety requirements for work on conventional suspended access equipment references should be available to the appropriate standards.

List of appropriate PPE for fall protection/rope access standard approved for use:

Sit harness: EN 813 

Full body harness : 

EN 361: ISO 10333-1 

Karabiners connectors(for all types): 

EN 362 (for self locking and closing types: ISO 10333-5) 

Descending device: EN 12841, 

Type C; ISO 22159 

For rescue only: EN 341 

Ascending device: EN 12841, Type B 

Back up device: EN 12841, Type A 

Helmets:(Industrial) EN 397;EN 14052 

Ropes: Low stretch: EN 1891; Dynamic ropes: EN 892

Since the launch of the fall prevention campaign in March 2009, summons have been issued to rope access companies who are not IRATA members in Singapore by HSE inspectorates for acts not conforming to safe work practices. IRATA SEA had been credited for its contribution to Singapore’s Work Health Safety committee (Ministry of Manpower) Singapore Work at Height campaign, which was launched in January 2009.  

The positive outcome of the campaign was the decision that part of the IRATA system would be incorporated into the government’s code of practice upon its completion, and credit has been given to IRATA for its contributions here. The new document will reflect the global marketplace in which IRATA International trains and works, and will specify procedures required in the workplace and delivered by member companies of the association, wherever they are based. Similar groundwork encouraged these moves into East and West Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan and Hong Kong. A small collective team has been established locally to encourage all South East Asian regional members to participate in providing valuable data to incorporate into the schematics of the New COP, or further enquiries received from time to time from the local governing authority.

Haidee Yatim has proposed and is prepared to assist in establishing IRATA member representatives in Malaysia and Indonesia to follow suit with similar groundwork efforts in order to bring IRATA to the forefront of safe working practices within South East Asia. 

A proposal to nominate an IRATA SEA Vice Chairman was forwarded during the recent Regional Advisory Committee (RAC) meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to steer developmental plans addressed by the committee members from Singapore IRATA SEA. This has progressed its development within both East and West Malaysia, and both sectors are currently recognised as established areas, operating onshore and offshore territories mainly for the oil and gas exploration sectors. It is anticipated that a few more to ensue from Peninsular Malaysia, joining the current developed areas of Singapore, Malaysia as well as Indonesia and their offshore territorial waters.

On a recent visit to Jakarta, Indonesia, which was co-organised by MIGAS and a local government body, the RAC Chairman was given the opportunity to introduce IRATA’s work methods, development of its expansion in Asia and demonstrate its excellent track record and statistics. Interesting topics were exchanged and discussed, and comparisons made between various access techniques/current work at height practice legislation, and statistics were also addressed. These included various methods, such as training for specific techniques deployed on site - work platforms, small scaffold versus rope access being examples.  

The Indonesian authorities are taking steps and measures to improve their work standards, particularly offshore, and future collaboration is in the pipeline.  

On December 23, 2008, IRATA training efforts were called into practice when the Singapore Flyer, comparable to the London Eye, ground to a halt with passengers still on board. An IRATA member company, Dive Marine, conducted a safe and responsible rescue of all 173 passengers. Dive Marine had worked extensively as consultants on the wheel prior to the incident, and were therefore able to execute a rescue plan pre-designed and assessed in case of emergency. They also had prior knowledge of the key access areas and the fastest means of reaching the capsules. The highly commendable rescue demonstrated the skill of the local workforce to adapt to rope access safety measures without impacting on effective time management. The event saw much exposure and acclaim to IRATA’s presence locally on the front page of the Singapore Straits Times. Dive Marine had been invited to a joint practice with the Central Division - DART (Disaster and Rescue Team) from the Civil Defences force on January 24, 2009 and again in March 2009. IRATA already works on the Singapore Flyer and expects to be called upon in the future to manage the structural maintenance and evacuation procedures. The coverage of the incident helped to further solidify relations with the Ministry of Manpower, aiding in administering a reputable outlook of IRATA’s contributions to the safety measures in the workplace, and contributed to the good turn-out at the recent OSEA exhibition.  

Karl Raby and Rod Dymott, IRATA’s Chairman and CEO, joined local member companies at the exhibition. One can anticipate continued successes of the kind already mentioned, due in part to the current global economic crisis, which will facilitate an inevitable spill over from shipyard work to the civil sector within the next year or so. Placing emphasis on the strength of the IRATA system without being either prescriptive or myopic in channeling the IRATA way, we will be effective in pushing out all other systems currently in use by specialist service centres.  

Haidee strongly believes that in the initial stages of advancement, emphasis should always be placed on laying down the groundwork, which is done by utilising all basic fundamentals from the IRATA syllabus. Having put this into practice, IRATA’s current training figures may have positioned Singapore as the highest per capita user of Rope Access in the world. Training initiatives currently in place in South East Asia are K2 Specialists Services, MacGREGOR Offshore, Dive Marine Svs Pte ltd, KB Access Pte ltd, all IRATA training member companies based in Asia, offering IRATA training courses for all levels, as well as a wide range of Work at Height and supporting skills courses.   

K2 Specialist Services Pte ltd has recently been granted approval as a certified training body, endorsed by the Work Heath and Safety for Fall and Protection Awareness programme, and PPE inspection for Managers and Supervisors. 

All courses are conducted by full time, dedicated, suitably qualified IRATA level 3 and T’s (A level 3 who has trained in excess of 50 trainees, using at least five different assessors and designated a ‘T’ status by IRATA) status trainers. 

A recent workshop was given with guest speaker Ian Ng from Fairworth Associates Pte Ltd (Certified Information Systems Auditor) who spoke on the implementation of risk management programmes in an organisation. 

Dr Bernard Thio presented a simple explanation of ‘Suspension Trauma/Syncope’ in layman’s terms. A mock up of a practical scenario was demonstrated to recognise the signs and symptoms of a person with suspension trauma, to illustrate two rescue techniques for both a conscious and unconscious individual while on the ropes, and show how treatment can be administered to individuals suspected of having suspension trauma. To further compound the IRATA way of training initiatives, at a recent RAC meeting suggestions were made to exchange trainers within Singapore Training Member Companies. K2, Dive Marine Service, MacGREGOR Offshore - all TMCs - had agreed to an exchange programme for trainers so as to enforce a much more consistent, effective delivery of training. All TMCs were encouraged to participate in cross training to share ideas within the Regional Advisory Committee, using TMC’s methods and approaches to building and maintaining a consistent delivery in excellent training.

Study tour for Mayalsian economic planning unit

A recent visit from the Malaysian Prime Minister’s economic planning unit on the 10 March 2010, had an overwhelming response. The Rope Access Industry study tour is part of plans to develop discussion incorporating IRATA work techniques within local industry, and to develop the skills of current members and grow membership across Asia. 

To date there are nine approved members and a few more potential members in Singapore. At the moment there is one IRATA member in China, one in Indonesia, five in Malaysia and a few more with applications on the way. Having highlighted the progress made in Singapore, Haidee Yatim looks forward to neighbouring countries in the South East Asian regions making similar levels of commitment and approaches to achieve similar results.  

The burgeoning success of IRATA is illustrated by the rapidly increasing levels of interest in membership from building maintenance contractors. This is mainly attributed to breakthroughs with the local legislators and to efforts in reinforcing training. ?

Published: 10th Jun 2010 in OSA Magazine


Haidee Yatim


Haidee Yatim (LEP AMIAQCP (Bindt - UK) IRATA Assessor A/3/2738/T, Head of Department - Specialised Operations, Rope Access and NDT Dept, MacGREGOR Offshore Division)  


Contact Us Events List Terms and Conditions Privacy Policy Sitemap Maintenance