Co Founder Gareth Ashworth’s Article which sparked Green Flags existencePosted on | November 30, 2017
An overview in the development of Industrial Rope Access throughout USA for use in the Oil & Gas Sectors.
Gareth Ashworth has been involved with Industrial Rope Access since 1992 (24 years) and has been an IRATA L3 supervisor, Assessor and US IRATA Chairman, Owner and CEO of Global Ascent Inc.
Having begun his career in the UK he began working in the Gulf of Mexico in 2000 on offshore rope access projects. In 2002 he moved to California where he set up his own company Global Ascent Inc, specializing in rope access for oil refineries. Global Ascent Inc is a fully audited IRATA member company and ISO 9001-2008 accredited. In 2013 his company was acquired by TEAM Industrial Services.
The use of Industrial Rope Access in the oil and Gas sectors here in the USA is increasing and at the same time changing. Understanding these changes are relevant to not only the rope access companies themselves but also their clients.
We are seeing a growing number of companies joining this ever increasing service line and as a customer, it is important to know what to expect and how to decipher this industry and the people involved. Provided is a description of some of the positive attributes of this service line, where it’s heading and the pitfalls included.
The article is intended for customers who employ rope access companies or use rope access service lines. We will discuss the types of companies involved, personnel, qualifications, expectations, pitfalls and advantages.
“What is Rope Access”
It’s amazing to me that this title still exists in my presentations but I’m not complaining as it means we still have new business available. There’s still plenty of time spent informing new clients that swinging from ropes in a refinery is indeed safe. Safer than you would expect if we are to take a look at the latest IRATA (Industrial Rope Access Trade Association) Safety statistics.
The latest IRATA 2014 WASA (Work and Safety Analysis) report:
As I have seen in the past few years though my use of this title is in steady decline simply due to customers being more knowledgeable of our industry.
There are several types of companies involved with Industrial rope access for many different reasons from NDE inspection, Scaffolding and Maintenance companies.
As demand increases for this service it has become an important part of everyday life in many facilities. This has led to larger MSA procurement contracts including it in their RFQ’s which essentially commoditizes the services leaving everyone without it in danger of not being able to bid on large NDE inspection or maintenance projects. So, the scramble to check the box of rope access services begins. Some have developed in house systems others by acquisition.
As this develops we are also being asked to provide turnkey services. This makes absolute sense, if we can only perform 50% of the scope then the staging will still need to be built. Crews now have begun to consist of Rope Supervisors, Inspectors and Insulators or other trades so that this demand is met. Here we see the introduction of insulation & maintenance companies moving into this market.
One thing is certain, Rope Access is getting its feet firmly situated under the table but to what cost and how is this growth being sustained safely.
Safety & Quality.
Every single rope access company or service line manager will tell you that the way they do it is the best, stands to reason. What you should learn from this and understand is they mean to the “best of their ability and knowledge”
This is an important distinction and will have consequences when issues and accidents arise.
So what are the options? Well we have two governing bodies in the US currently of any value, IRATA, The Industrial Rope Access Trade Association and SPRAT, Society for Professional Rope Access Technicians. Both are similar in training but different in application. IRATA being the original internationally recognized organization and SPRAT being a newer US led group of companies involved with rope access.
IRATA currently has a certified work force of 12,400 technicians worldwide and a total of 99,000 technicians trained since 1992 With 315 Audited IRATA member companies. SPRAT currently have 47 corporate members and approx. 150 Sustaining members with 7,000 technicians trained since 2002 and approximately 3,000 active technicians.
Understanding the differences and what to look for in a rope access company
While some companies will tell you there is little difference between the two or that their internal procedures work to higher more stringent guidelines, there are clear and substantial differences between these two organizations and they should not be confused.
There has been several gap analysis’ done over the previous years and go into great detail but I’ve tried to break it down in order of importance and relevance. This is not exhaustive and only conveys the issue simply.
As a basic understanding of rope access we know that each rope access job must have a L3 supervisor included but what are the differences? We also understand that qualifications don’t necessarily relate experience so we use these qualifications as a gage to help us determine responsibility and boundaries. We as rope access managers have a responsibility to provide the most suitable technician for the job and the qualification is our starting block.
IRATA Level 3 Supervisor qualification
The candidate shall have a minimum of 1 year and 1,000hours of work experience as a Level 2 Rope Access Technician (hours to be verified by an IRATA Logbook). Therefore a minimum of 2 years and 2,000hours is the minimum required. SPRAT Level 3 Supervisor qualification
The candidate must provide proof of at least 500 hours of work experience and 6months as a Level 2 Technician or equivalent. Therefore – a minimum of 1,000hours and no time minimum is required. A SPRAT Level 2 is not a pre-requisite.
There are similar distinctions between lower levels but a newly qualified IRATA L3 supervisor has twice the time and experience on ropes.
IRATA Training shall be carried out by an IRATA Level 3 Instructor, whose name and IRATA number shall be included on the Assessment form. The Trainer shall conform to all IRATA requirements for certification as a Trainer, as outlined in the IRATA Training, Assessment and Certification Scheme (TACS). The Trainer may have an assistant, who must be an IRATA certified Rope Access Technician.
Under SPRAT it is not defined who is competent to carry out SPRAT training at this time. The current requirement is that Employers shall ensure that all employees have the knowledge and training necessary to safely perform the Rope Access work to which they are assigned’.
- Membership Criteria, Industrial Rope Access businesses only. All businesses are 3rdParty Audited prior to admittance as members, Operational and/or Training. A training member company is only registered and audited for training and cannot claim to operate as an audited member company
- Company Audits, Mandatory 3rd Party Audits of Member companies is a pre-requisite for entry into the IRATA Organization. Annual Internal Audits and 3rd Party Audits every 3 years
- Accident and Incident Data, IRATA collects accident and incident reports from all members. The analysis of this data reinforces the Safety of the criteria used for Assessments, Membership and Code of Practice Standards using data analyzed by 3rd Party HSE Professionals.SPRAT Membership
Membership Criteria, No membership. SPRAT offers accreditation for an annual fee. Includes Recreational and Rescue Organizations.
- Company Audits, A draft voluntary system is proposed. There is no pre-requisite for membership application.
- Accident and Incident Data, SPRAT does not collect/collate or review accident and incident statistics from its associated companies or certified technicians.
By including recreational and rescue organizations SPRAT introduces a risk into the association outside of specialized Industrial Rope Access. No membership emphasizes this risk. Guidance only.
As SPRAT has no quality control or audits of member companies, this introduces a risk of companies with little or no Rope Access expertize or with no intent to follow guidance from the association.
SPRAT cannot verify whether its Code of Practice is in fact a safe practice or whether changes need to be made in protocols.
Another caveat to consider is that hiring IRATA or SPRAT technicians does not make a company a member company. If you are considering using a SPRAT or IRATA company for the first time you should verify their membership online or ask for their certificate. An IRATA member company that provides training and services will have a number followed by O/T (operator and Trainer) If it only has T then its operating procedures etc have not been audited and could well be working to something different.
What to expect from your rope access crews:
When your rope access crews arrive onsite they should have all their rope access equipment certificates and log books with them and available for inspection. Their equipment should be manifested and a copy available with the equipment inspection documented. All rope access equipment should be formally inspected and registered in a central database twice a year. Daily checks are also mandatory.
Prior to starting work there should be a check of certificates to ascertain that you indeed have a suitably qualified crew, this can always be done prior to the project.
A risk assessment and method statement should also be provided before any job starts. Occasionally these can be done as blanket statements for routine type work that doesn’t change but for every change in procedure they need to draw up a new one. This can be done by a manager or supervisor that is familiar and understands this type of project. This gives you the confidence that they know what they are doing prior to starting work rather than finding out in the middle. This will include any potential rescue plans that may be needed.
Just because you have a rope access crew available doesn’t mean they can do everything. Some projects require specialist crews so make sure they have experience. For example setting up a tensioned diagonal rappel or an internal inspection of a coke drum or LPG sphere. The last thing you need is a technician doing rigging experiments on your time not to mention the safety implications. The temptation for the new supervisor to say yes to the client is great and can get him in deep trouble.
You should already have asked and been sent a copy of their safe work practices and most companies should have copies available immediately or on demand. Make sure the technicians are familiar with this document. It’s amazing how many technicians never see them and it’s a critical document.
When the job begins it will take longer for the job to start than regular projects. We have several additional requirements that need to be performed on top of your daily ones. If you use a standard JSA or JHA then this won’t cover our requirements. We have additional safety paperwork that is rope access related. The daily requirements must include a rope related
JSA/JHA, daily rescue plan, rigging plan your site permit and any other site relevant documents and all this can take some time.
Once the documents are completed and signed then the crews can begin work. Things to look out for with inexperienced or new supervisors is their lack of knowledge of the plant processes which is a potential safety hazard. Setting up anchors with material slings instead of steel and using regular ropes on a cold blowdown line in your Coker facility could end in disaster. Keep in mind that an IRATA or SPRAT L3 may have been working in a completely different industry to this and perhaps needs some mentoring. It doesn’t mean he’s a bad rope access technician, just not experienced enough to be doing this project.
What to expect from the Rope Access Company
Your best source for rope access comes from a dedicated rope access company but these are few and far between nowadays. Most have been acquired and turned into service lines within larger organizations. It’s not uncommon to have two or three different rope access service lines within one larger corporation so make sure they are working to the same safety procedures.
There is a temptation for these companies to train technicians from within your facility perhaps on run and maintain projects to provide rope access under the supervision of an external L3. While this can work if its full time work there becomes an issue if he’s only doing three or four weeks of rope access a year. If this is the case then collecting all your rope related ISO’s and projects together and having a dedicated crew come in will save you time and money as well as keeping the project much safer. It will be done much quicker as well.
Additionally training up new technicians and using L3 creates a very limited crew in their capabilities. New L1’s are restricted in their ability and knowledge of rescues. What happens is the supervisor ends up doing the work and the same time exposes himself to risk because his crew is not qualified to perform certain rescues. Eventually these technicians should develop into suitable work crews but need structured mentoring to achieve this.
Make sure the company or service line manager is involved in your project. The chances are you will deal with an account manager or similar who has limited knowledge. Ask for their rope access specialist.
Advantages and pitfalls
The advantages to using the correct rope access crews is impressive. From major cost savings, reduction in hours worked at risk, saving project or turnaround time, less impact on the facility and our ability to work with the least amount of disruption to the plant are some of the benefits but there are pitfalls.
Many times I have talked to clients who tell me that the company they had previously used for rope access ended up being more expensive than conventional method. This can be attributed to several issues:
It wasn’t a rope access project.
Rope access managers want the work but sometimes are overzealous about what is and what’s not, rope access. Once you have internal or independent knowledge of rope access you will be able to determine this yourselves to a degree but questioning this will help you decide.
- Inexperienced crews.
Clear and simple, if you have crews that are inexperienced it takes longer and can potentially be less safe.
- Badly planned project
Some of the blame can fall on both shoulders here. Bringing the wrong equipment or wrong interpretation of the work scope can cause major delays. Work scheduling can always be an issue. Make sure your safety folk are involved in the process from the start. So many times I’ve seen work stopped because the Fire and Rescue or safety representatives need to review documentation before work starts. Work conflicts are also another problem and rope access has further issues in that we work above people a lot.Conclusion.Industrial Rope Access is growing rapidly here in the USA and we all have a responsibility for it to grow safely. Great challenges lie ahead and we believe that educating customers in what to look for and have expectations is a definite positive step towards increasing safety and quality.