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Workplace Safety

Published: 10th Dec 2011 in OSA Magazine

No-one owns up to working dangerously; at least not until it is shown that they are guilty of this! But by then it is too late for everyone, especially the injured person.

Of all the work that is undertaken around the world every day of every year the most feared – by both labourer and managing director – is that which has to be undertaken at height or in areas of difficult access.

Many of us get nervous climbing a stepladder or travelling up (or down) on an escalator in a store, a rail station or an airport – but some are required to earn a living by accessing greater heights than this.

The twin towers of the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur come to mind, along with the increasing high-rise constructions around south-east Asia and beyond; we should all appreciate that work on these structures requires special skills on the part of those inspecting, maintaining and cleaning these places.

Even modest buildings present a danger for those working on or within them and it is important that it is recognised that of all workplaces it is those of great height, or presenting other access difficulties, that need to be given special attention. There are methods by which those working in such difficult locations can be kept safe and it is important that all of us, whether we work in the relevant industries or are simply concerned with the health and wellbeing of our fellow man, are aware of what requirements are needed to achieve such worthy goals. The first essential comes even before the worker goes anywhere near a high structure – he must be trained.

Training for safety

Even work at ground level can be dangerous. Slips and trips are the most common of workplace incidents and employers must ensure the workplace is made as safe as possible, and that their staff are aware of the ways they can make their work safer. But I shall use the work of industrial rope access companies to demonstrate what is needed to ensure excellence in industrial training.

The member companies of IRATA International operate around the world including in the UK, North and South America, throughout Europe, across South East Asia and now in China and Japan as well as in other countries. Working from ropes their workers can be seen on the derricks in Singapore as well as the high-rise and other buildings around the city.

Men working from ropes undertake a vast range of work with, globally, more than 12million hours being worked by these people in the last year.

While working from ropes is the most simple of the many means of reaching great height or difficult locations, it requires high-grade training and regular re-training to ensure rope access workers can operate safely as well as effectively for the companies that employ them.

IRATA has training companies all around Asia and those taking courses there will be trained by experts to a set curriculum during a five-day course, which is completed by the trainees being assessed by an experienced assessor who is independent of the training centre.

It is this highly skilled expert who decides who passes and who fails the demanding course – and this is a unique feature; it is not common in industrial contexts.

As IRATA rope access grew around the world and areas of membership quickly became established, the Association has created Regional Advisory Committees in key sectors. The group in South East Asia quickly became influential in the area, liaising with government and health and safety bodies to ensure they were aware of the training and operational benefits its members could deliver, and offering work demonstrations that gave visual evidence of this. This work enabled a greater understanding of how safe work methods could be incorporated into the daily regime, and also showed the range of work that is possible from suspended ropes. Where there was initially some scepticism about using ropes in this hi-tech age, the system is now common across the region as it is around the world.

To ensure safe working, plan for it

Working on derricks in Singapore or inspecting, repairing or cleaning high structures anywhere cannot be governed by guesswork; the means by which the work will be carried out cannot and must not be decided on the day. Industrial work has to be based on clear and proven guidelines, but there are too many industrial sites and workplaces where the work methods are chosen with little or no planning and dangerous levels of invention.

The IRATA International Code of Practice is a substantial volume that, along with the Association’s other documents, guides the work procedures of its member companies. It is compiled by experts from around the access industry, by people who know the industry and have experience of the work tools, operating procedures and the means by which workers can remain safe. Too often there are no set procedures and that can mean the work area becomes an unguided mess of faulty decisions, hasty compromises and poor practices.

By contrast, a well ordered work team that can base its working on the high quality training courses they are regularly required to undertake, and are then well supervised by experienced, senior people who are capable of leading a group in a manner that sets high standards is preferable - particularly as they can prompt well thought out decisions and effective action as the norm. These standards will deliver a high level of competence.

Maintaining quality standards can be costly in terms of time and money that could adversely affect commercial success, but it is invariably the case that those with a commitment to high standards will be favoured by the majority of clients. The casual and the careless will be found out as they make errors and endanger life in their quest to gain business by false means and easy promises.

Industrial rope access in SE Asia and beyond

IRATA International is the sole global trade association in the work-at-height sector; it has member companies in every continent and undertakes more than 12 million hours working on ropes in a year.

Having been created to service the offshore industry in the North Sea between Great Britain and Europe, it quickly demonstrated how its system of work could be of equal value onshore too. Meanwhile, as the offshore work expanded at an astonishing pace in all continents, IRATA gained members in substantial development areas, with Singapore being the first to embrace rope access and be quickly followed by many more.

Today the Association has more than 30 member companies in South East Asia and Far East countries, including Hong Kong, China and Japan with the result that this work-at-height system is playing a key role in your region.

It is essential for world affairs and global business that industrial training and work procedures are thoroughly thought through, tested and correctly carried out. In the desire to expand, to make ‘the fast buck’, pre-emptive decisions can be taken that can create a deep-seated fault line that can bring problems. By comparison, good order and deliberate, well planned decisions can bring progress that is guided by good order.

IRATA International has only grown at the pace it has because of the commercial demands its efforts created and, even then, it chose to require considerable standards from all its members, including those who had to raise their game considerably in order to attain the Association’s tough standards.

All applicants quickly see that the IRATA way is the way they want to go and the Association is proud to have helped raise standards around the world.

Working with governments, administrators and commerce

IRATA enjoys good relations with health and safety authorities around the world because of the standards it sets and the safe working record it can claim. Its control documents have driven standards higher in your region, have saved lives in the process and are admired here and around the world; they have been drafted into many national and local work control documents.

The Association is always ready to demonstrate its work procedures to interested parties and such presentations are regularly carried out in every part of the world including SE Asia. Indeed, it has been IRATA that has often led the drive for good practice and persuaded authorities to follow suit.

The basic simplicity of industrial rope access sees it needing no expensive machinery and minimal technology and, though it requires a good level of fitness to undertake rope access work, there are very few complex issues to learn, and it is free of complex machinery and, in addition, environmentally-friendly.

Administrations around the world are now fully aware that they allow workplace standards to slip at their peril. It means that those who underperform badly do become very obvious and clear for all to see, but there are some who then look to keep ahead, just ahead, of what is required by the authorities and hope that is sufficient. This means that those looking for standards they can trust have to look deeper into the organisations that interest them, and that can take time – especially if what you are shown is only adequate, not especially encouraging.

There are various features that you can look for or ask to see. Can you be shown a training curriculum, a plan that is used for all courses wherever they are run? Are the companies you talk to committed to a particular member scheme that is subject to a periodic audit which demonstrates their work is fit for purpose? Are those who undertake the work able to identify a career path that can only be achieved by diligent work and adherence to standards (and not just bought on a construction site!), and can the companies demonstrate, ideally from independent analysis, that they work safely?

The changing world

It is to be hoped that we have begun to turn away from substandard workplace performance, are no longer prepared to treat trained and effective workers cheaply but strive to become efficient and grow by the employment of well prepared teams whose training has boasted an in-built attention to detail and a determination to work to a set plan using skills that are proven.

The simplicity of the rope access method lends itself to extended use in parts of the world seeking to learn new commercial skills in a safe work environment.

This has led to a remarkable growth in the SE Asia region. Companies can be found pursuing the successful formula in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Sarawak and on into Cambodia, Hong Kong and China. In turn, the safety culture introduced to work-at-height by the IRATA International Code of Practice is ensuring the same diligence is now influencing areas that have not enjoyed high workplace standards in the past.

Work-at-height or in areas of difficult access cannot be made safe by wishing for it. And that is the case whether you are working five feet off the ground or 500. A careless moment, a desire to work faster than is safe or forcing a pace of work that imports risk can cause serious injury as readily as a fall from a great height. Increasingly, health and safety personnel and governments are focusing on ‘slips and trips,’ and rightly so as household incidents on a wet floor or a small stepladder only replicate what is happening every day in large and small work areas.

Extensive training and re-training provides the best chance of safety, along with clear work rules and guidance. A diligent worker operating at height can be working correctly but trips over a discarded work tool or odd piece of scaffolding, and falls... A window cleaner is close to completing his work when he stretches to reach the last window and loses his footing… He could fall, but he faces serious problems even if he is left suspended with colleagues not being able to reach him quickly enough.

Well considered work procedures that are correctly worked to are never wasted but a casual, carefree attitude to workplace safety can ruin a life in an instant; apathy is the cause of so many work accidents.

When IRATA expanded rope access into a comprehensive means of achieving safe high access it introduced work procedures that effectively ruled out the chance of a fall but, not content with that, they added extensive work guidance that greatly reduced other forms of incident.

The rope access worker has his ropes attached to a fixed point at all times and is able to move around a structure while maintaining this situation. He can move up or down and around any structure, and can usually complete his tasks more quickly than motorised access.
Important to an increasing number of clients in this sector is the environment and, with no need of motive power or other machinery, rope access teams offer zero pollution and are thus much favoured by the environmental lobby.

Workplace safety it is all down to you

It really is! Whether you are a high-ranking administrator wanting to build a record of efficiency and safety; a property owner who wants his building to be inspected and cleaned safely; a campaigner for a clean environment; someone seeking a solution to the cleaning of a high structure or the inspection of an item of machinery in a confined space, you can actually achieve all your requirements by employing men on ropes and, at the same time, be sure you are employing a modern work solution which, in the right hands, is extremely safe and effective.

As a service provider in this sector you have to earn the confidence of others in the methods you and yours use each and every day, and that comes from thorough training and clear, unambiguous guidance which produces annual audited assurances of its safe performance. It is well worth the effort!

Author Details

Roderick Dymott, Chief Executive Officer
+44 (0) 1276 857844
or +44 (0) 1420 471619
rod.dymott@irata.org or info@irata.org
IRATA International, Kingsley House, Ganders Business Park, Kingsley, Bordon, Hants,
GU35 9LU

IRATA International has member companies and rope access technicians in every continent. It has six Regional Advisory Committees in primary markets. Copies of IRATA’s publications are available from the website and include IRATA International Code of Practice, and its annual Work and Safety Analysis.
All IRATA member companies carry a Unique Membership Number that can be checked on the website; there are rope access companies who do not operate under the IRATA guidance or control.

For details of the IRATA Regional Advisory Committee in Singapore please contact David Ngau: +60 085 655766.


Published: 10th Dec 2011 in OSA Magazine


Roderick Dymott

Roderick Dymott, Chief Executive Officer, IRATA International

Rod Dymott was appointed IRATAís first CEO at the end of 2004 after a career of senior positions in international book publishing. The continuing growth of rope access in the UK has seen the Association achieve considerable membership growth in the UK but the increase in membership overseas has been the most marked, causing the name change to IRATA International and the organisation to be able to claim member companies in every continent, Regional Advisory Committee in six of the busiest membership areas, and over 35000 rope access technicians trained and registered. The concerns over rope access undertaken without the strength of an established and consistent procedure has led IRATA to allocate identification numbers to each member company and it is these Unique Membership Numbers that can be asked for by contractors, health and safety professionals, and architects, planners and property managers. A full list of members, and their numbers, is available at www.irata.org

Roderick Dymott




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