Under the stinging Dubai sun, modern skyscrapers offer breathtaking views that momentarily take you on a thrilling journey into the elegance and art of leading-edge structures, sprawling and hovering as far and high as the eyes can see. These skyscrapers stand towering with clean, sparkling windows and facades that clearly display the brilliant architectural designs in the city.
However, to care for and maintain high-rise buildings is no mean feat.
Dubai stands proudly in the middle of the Arabian desert like a refreshing oasis, and often, buildings are covered in dust due to the persistently blowing sand. Hence, they would need to be regularly cleansed and polished. Inasmuch as machines have proven to be efficient workers over the years, none has proved to possess adequate capacity to do this job. This is where cleaning operatives, referred to as rope access technicians, come in and defy every odd to clean the dusty buildings from top to bottom while dangling on ropes. Armed with squeegees, window washers, and buckets of water tied to their waists, these cleaning officers diligently and expertly perform their tasks to the satisfaction of clients and the public.
Rope access is a set of techniques where ropes and other specialized hardware are used for working at steeping heights. At a time when the world is concerned with health and safety at work, it may tell a tale of gross negligence to see individuals cleaning windows from these heights with the support of only a rope.
“I feel uncomfortable when I see these young men working from such a height. This is dangerous,” said a concerned Filipino woman, referring to rope access technicians who were cleaning top floor windows of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.
She is not alone. Technicians working from these dangerous heights attract sympathy from thousands of intrigued onlookers down below, and even from inside the buildings they’re cleaning. But those who shiver with fear at the sight of these technicians risking their lives to wipe windows should be comforted by the fact that they are experienced, highly trained experts and their work is heavily regulated by the law.
“Rope access operations should only be undertaken by specialists and certified companies and personnel (e.g IRATA audited),” reads part of Dubai municipality department of Health and Safety technical guidelines for rope access.
IRATA stands for Industrial Rope Access Trade Association. It was formed in the UK in the late 1980’s to solve maintenance challenges in the offshore oil and gas industry. Its rope access technique is used in a wide range of repair, maintenance, inspection and access work. It has over 570 member companies around the world and has trained in excess of 130,000 rope access technicians worldwide. Such is the credibility of IRATA that it is recognised as the world’s leading authority on industrial rope access.
At a glance, it might look like the technicians are hanging hopelessly with no regard for safety, at times seeming like confused souls on a suicide mission, but according to IRATA, during rope access operations, all safety precautions are always in place.
“The primary objective when using rope access methods is to carry out the work efficiently, with minimal accidents, incidents or dangerous occurrences. In order to ensure a safe system of work is maintained at all times, whilst avoiding damage to property or harm to the environment, careful planning and documented risk assessments are undertaken for each operation,” IRATA writes on its website.
But, of course, even with safety measures in place, just like in any other risky job, accidents, incidents and other occupational hazards are wont to happen from time to time. There have been falls from height due to poor technique, equipment or anchor failure. Technicians have been struck by falling items that were dropped or knocked off the surface. They have sustained rope burns after ropes or webbing material rubbed against their exposed skins. They have also been stuck at height where there were inadequate rescue capabilities, causing suspension syncope (condition associated with remaining motionless in a harness) in some of them. Since rope access is done by professionals, these occurrences are infrequent.
IRATA has three levels.
IRATA Level 1 is for rope access technicians who can perform a specified range of rope access tasks under the supervision of Level 3 rope access safety supervisors.
IRATA Level 2 is for experienced rope access technicians who perform more complex tasks under the supervision of Level 3 rope access safety supervisors. To qualify for Level 2, a technician must have at least 1 year and 1,000 hours of experience in Level 1.
IRATA Level 3 is for experienced rope access technicians responsible for understanding and implementing rope access procedures, method statements and associated risk assessments. To qualify for Level 3, a technician must have at least 1 year and 1,000 hours of experience in Level 2, and hold a valid first aid certificate.
It is, therefore, obvious that the aesthetic beauty of Dubai’s buildings is to a large extent the doing of these men who endanger their lives cleaning and dusting them from the skies. The lights wouldn’t shine as luminously, the glass surfaces wouldn’t reflect as brightly, and the walls wouldn’t be as neat, if not for the hard work and dedication of the rope access troop. The booming of high-rise infrastructure in recent years has provided a fertile ground for their trade, as companies that offer rope access continue to be on the rise. Engaging their services is the only effective way to maintain your high-rise buildings, and it’s crucial to identify the competent, most qualified technicians amidst the buzz of rope access cleaning services and business.