Repairs, Maintenance and Renovations

May, 10 2023 Published by Toronto and Area Chapter - By Christian Coldea

Best Practices Advice For Condominium Rope Access

From the Spring 2023 issue of CCI Toronto Condovoice Magazine.

Education For Managers On The Best Practices Of Rope Access Contractors

You may be wondering ‘what is rope access’, and ‘why am I reading about it in a condominium magazine?’ Rope access is a method of working at heights in condominiums that involves the use of ropes, anchors and other specialized equipment to access inaccessible areas of the building structure. It is one of the safest and most cost-effective ways to perform work on the outside of a condominium building above 4 floors and in some circumstances a better alternative to the more traditional, more cumbersome methods of access such as swing stages/scaffolding, bosun chairs, aerial lifts or ladders.

This article aims to educate condominium managers on when to consider rope access and the best practices of rope access contractors. It covers key considerations such as proper planning and preparation, safety measures, equipment, experience, and operational procedures so condominium managers can ensure that they are selecting reputable and competent rope access contractors who will complete their projects in a safe and effective manner.

First, when should rope access be considered? For many years, rope access has been successfully used in industries such as construction, oil and gas, and commercial maintenance. Naturally, it is a good fit for condominium use, where conditions are less demanding than the other industries mentioned, but the benefits of this method can still be derived. Rope access is very well suited for inspections, surveying, maintenance, and repairs of the exterior facade of condominium buildings and can be considered for any and most of these applications. Often, rope access methods are great substitutes for traditional methods when completing jobs that have difficult access, or are likely to be intrusive, or when the job needs to be more cost effective. For example, when dealing with a condominium with different facade elevations, it would likely make more sense to use rope access than stage. Or when completing small repair jobs, or maintenance on buildings above 30 floors, it would be ideal to prioritize rope access over traditional methods to save on costs, and due to the flexibility of the access method.

Rope access is a preferred access method for condominium buildings for several reasons. For most condominium boards the most important of these reasons is the cost-savings offered by rope access relative to swing stages, BMUs (Building Maintenance Unit) and aerial lifts. Rope access requires fewer personnel, rigging labor, and equipment, resulting in lower costs to the condominium. Moreover, rope access provides greater flexibility to reach tricky-to- access areas of the building.

Technicians can safely transfer from one set of ropes to another, they are able to ascend and descend, and quickly anchor to various sections of the building. These abilities are conducive to being able to easily maneuver around obstacles, under overhangs, along raptor rails, and on and off building platforms and terraces, making rope access a versatile option for building maintenance. Maneuverability also translates to being less disruptive to building occupants compared to other methods as technicians can work quietly and efficiently, ensuring minimal disturbance to residents or businesses inside the building. Davit arms, stages, or equipment left on penthouse terraces, in front of the buildings, or on podium levels are unsightly and may seem intrusive to some residents. In a small but still meaningful way, rope access has a lower environmental impact than swing stages, BMUs, or aerial lifts, which require significant energy output to operate. Finally, rope access is by far the safest access method when performed by qualified technicians. Rope access technicians undergo rigorous training and certification, ensuring safe work at height, and providing quick and easy evacuation in case of an emergency. Compared to the bosuns chairs, rope access technicians are secured directly to ropes using modern technology which provides extra security and comfort for the technician. The ropes are securely anchored to the building's anchor system. With rope access there is also less chance of being slammed against the building façade in high wind compared to swing stage or BMU with the option for self-rescue, or rescue by fire department. Overall, rope access provides a safe, cost effective, flexible and minimally invasive method for condominium buildings to undertake repairs with a low environmental impact.

While rope access methods provide a myriad of benefits, the access method is not a silver bullet for all work at height in condominiums. Rope access methods are not suitable for jobs that call for long exposure at extreme heights such as 60 floors or higher, jobs that require large quantities of material, or jobs that do not have anchors installed. For example, hoisting heavy and/or large materials along the exterior are best suited to using swing stages, or its cousin the BMU (Building Maintenance Unit - an automated controlled system). They provide a suspended work platform the size of which can be adjusted by the operators to cover larger or smaller portions of a building facade. The bosun’s chair, a wooden seat sat on by the worker that is attached to a rope, is suitable for small access jobs but is only permissible for buildings at 30 floors or less and is only capable of descent without horizontal movement. Aerial lifts and ladders are useful for accessing buildings without roof anchors and for interior work in large, enclosed spaces. By understanding the task, the best method of access can be chosen.

Choosing the access method should always be left to an experienced contractor, however property managers can always ask for an explanation as to why the method was selected. With good planning and preparation, organizations can help minimize the risk of accidents or incidents and ensure that the project is completed efficiently and successfully.

Planning and preparation are critical to the success of any rope access project and should not be overlooked. A detailed risk assessment should be performed by the rope access contractor to identify potential hazards and assess the associated risks. This assessment should take into account factors such as the location, weather conditions, equipment requirements, and the capabilities and experience of the rope access technicians. Based on the risk assessment, a plan for emergency response should be developed that outlines procedures for responding to emergencies, such as falls or equipment failures. By taking the time to properly plan and prepare, organizations can minimize the risk of accidents or incidents during rope access work and ensure that the project is completed safely, efficiently, and successfully.

When selecting a rope access contractor, it is important to ensure that the contractor uses high-quality and certified equipment that has been properly maintained and inspected to ensure the safety of workers, residents, and the building. Good rope access contractors inspect equipment at least bi-annually and should be able to provide equipment logs that demonstrate that the equipment meets industry standards and regulations, is certified by ANSI or CE, and is regularly inspected and maintained. A rope access contractor who uses high-quality, certified, and properly maintained equipment is more likely to complete projects safely and effectively, while minimizing the risk of accidents or damage to the building. Managers should be aware of these practices and bring them up when interviewing potential contractors.

An immediate red flag for any condominium manager is a company that shows up to a building with one technician designated to work on a tall building. The technician arrives wearing no uniform, no helmet and doesn’t have a danger sign. Any or all these indicators are complete red flags for condominium managers. Safety systems must be emphasized in the condominium industry and include redundant safety measures such as backup ropes and anchors to ensure that a failure of one system does not result in a fall. This means using a separate anchor for main and safety lines. Wearing helmets is also essential, although uncomfortable, to protect workers against head trauma during high wind events, and ropes should always be protected using a carpet or rope protector when going over the edge of the building or passing over an abrasive or sharp surface. Work should be performed in teams of 2 or more to ensure that rescue can be performed if necessary, and those teams should always put out the necessary signage for public protection.

As it relates specifically to condominiums, good rope access contractors pull up their ropes at the end of each day. It is an important aspect of their job to maintain safety and minimize disruption to residents and reduce the risk of any damage to the building facade.

Proper training is essential for rope access technicians to ensure that they are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to perform their work safely and efficiently. There are several internationally recognized certifications that exist for rope access technicians, the most common of which are done by SPRAT (The Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians) and IRATA (Industrial Rope Access Trade Association). These are the biggest organizations, but there are several equivalents that exist in different local areas, and there are even companies that have their own standards of rope access and certify their employees using those methods. Either will provide comprehensive training on the use of ropes, anchors, and other equipment as well as on how to identify and mitigate risks. The training also covers emergency response procedures—how to safely evacuate a worker who has fallen—and ongoing support so that technicians can maintain their skills in an ever-changing industry. Obtaining training from a reputable organization shows that the technician has completed the necessary training and has demonstrated proficiency in rope access work. Property managers should request that contractors present proof of training because the work can be hazardous, and without proper training, technicians are at increased risk.

How to reach out to a rope access company? First pull up your search bar and input ‘rope access followed by the name of the trade (e.g ‘caulking’). Several companies should appear, and you can search if they are in your area by selecting the ‘maps’ tab on Google which will show you where these companies are located. Second is to check their reputation on Google. Look for companies with at least 30-40 reviews and look through them to see if they seem like real people, or paid reviews. Then look at the company’s website, LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook. See if their photos align, or if their website has stock images. This provides a good indication of how the company’s crews operate, and if they are consistent. Good companies have a high degree of transparency by demonstrating their work, practices, and operations in a congruent fashion across various platforms.

Once you have identified a few possible rope access companies follow this general process to help you make a final choice:

  • Contact them to discuss potential projects.
  • Provide details of the project along with budget and time line
  • Inquire about their experience
  • Ask for qualifications i.e. training, certifications either SPRAT, IRATA
  • Request on site visit
  • Request a detailed quote and breakdown of supplies, labor, and expected outcomes.
  • Discuss expectations of the job and working relationship
  • Discuss safety protocols and insurance policies i.e., worker injury insurance

By researching various rope access companies and ensuring the team chosen is qualified, trained, and insured, you can feel confident in the safe and successful completion of your project. With the right team, your project can move forward confidently, knowing it is in capable hands.

Rope access provides condominium managers with a safe, efficient and cost-effective means of performing tasks on the outside of their buildings. By understanding the best practices and procedures of this access method, managers can be better equipped to select knowledgeable and competent contractors who will successfully complete their projects while minimizing disruption and risk to both workers and building occupants.

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