Labor of love: rope access work
Rope access workers are experts at height, true professionals above the void, skilled specialists in difficult to access and confined spaces. They must master techniques for access and rope work. Certification, such as the CQP in France (Certificate for Professionally Qualified rope access work), requires a long training period. Rope access workers from all around the world are continuously developing innovative techniques for rope work and fall protection. Their rope access know-how (training, certification, and experience) is only part of the package, and would be of little use if they were not already skilled in the more traditional professions (masonry, plumbing, welding, painting, windows…).
June 14 2013
Rope access and confined space
Interview with François Ranise, director and founder of PROFIL, a Marseille (France) based company that specializes in work at heights
"I had already been doing rope access work for a few years when I created PROFIL in 1993. My goal at the time was to only work with one or two people. As the market evolved I grew our business and put together a company strategy focusing on sustainable, long-term performance. This led to implementing a well-balanced employee management approach and a keen focus on safety.
We originally specialized in commercial buildings, and then moved to industrial buildings where the stringent requirements of MASE certification (manual for improving company safety) allowed us to better structure our approach. In the industrial environment rope access work is more diverse but also much more demanding. The solution must be quick, efficient, and safe. For example, in 1997, we had a client who asked us to clean the inside of a 90 meter high boiler with slag buildup consisting mostly of lime. We assembled our entire staff to spilt day and night shifts, acquired new equipment such as self-contained breathing apparatuses for everyone. Times like this, where safety is of the essence, build cohesion and company identity. Team members bond and feedback on the experience can be reinvested in the company.
Today we manage highly intense work sites, like when we recently finished a complete refurbishment of a 145 meter high flare stack in Martigues. For the client this meant halting production for three weeks, and for us this translated to more than 2000 person-hours of work (a new application of epoxy coating, refurbishing skywalks and cage ladders, replacing piping, guy wires, and the nozzle, refurbishing the obstruction lighting system, inspecting all welds).
We have also started to work at major construction sites, such as extensive concrete work for a low-income housing authority (10,000 linear meters over the course of 18 months) or even building a 13 ton metal footbridge at the bottom of the Verdon Gorge (Provence, France)."
Choosing to use ropes?
"When faced with a request, choosing ropes as means to access is determined after careful examination of the risks in order to choose the safest way to access the work site. We then translate each assignment into its vertical components, lay out the different stages of the project and roles for everyone, and detail how to manage the specific issues related to working in a vertical environment such as safely transporting materials or using tools. The different situations at each work station, depending on the type of work site, require specialized teams, specific techniques for rope work, and the right know-how for the equipment used.
Today, PROFIL has more than 50 rope access workers divided into teams that work at industrial, commercial building, and cliff reinforcement sites depending on their specialty."
Training and teamwork
"Every rope access worker is responsible for his or her own safety but also takes care to make sure their colleagues are safe. We started sending rope access workers to CQP training in 1996. In 2008 we made the choice, in compliance with Qaulibat 1452 rope work certification, to only have CQP (or CATC) certified rope workers at our work sites, half of which are at least level 2. Beyond the obvious importance of certification, this guarantees a common safety reference for rope work. Training represents 5% of employee costs for PROFIL. This is a willing investment by management to allow the company to move forward, to easily adapt to market needs, to offer new services, and to provide our staff with the opportunity to expand their skill set and value-add."
Not just a profession, but pride in one’s work!
A team of rope access workers from PROFIL participates every year in the French rope access championships. They see the event as an opportunity to meet others in the profession, as recognition for their line of work, and as a challenge to mark the end of a long period of specialized training. It is also motivating to fly the flag of one’s company. In 2012, Yohann Garcia became the French national champion, and there were as many fans as competitors who made the trip from Marseille. In addition to those who participate, every staff member in the company closely follows the results.
Saïd El Haddaoui, rope access worker
Saïd is PROFIL’s longest-serving employee. He started working in the company at the age of 17, performing masonry work on the ground: preparing materials, tools and cement batches before handing everything off to François Ranise, who worked on ropes high above. His organizational skills and follow-up helped him grow within the company. He took charge of managing the company store, preparing and keeping track of equipment, purchasing supplies for work sites, and overall organization. On top of all that he had a strong desire to work outdoors. To gain the requisite skills for rope work, he started out by joining a local caving club and going on outings every weekend. After a while his rope handling skills reached a point where he could finally start CQP training. Once he earned his diploma he joined our rope access team. Today he is a site manager for city projects, and a happy man who enjoys working outside, by the sea, as often as possible.
"He has a strong desire to work outdoors."
Interview with Sandrine Baudoin, one of the rare female rope access workers in France
"The golden rule is to never leave anything to chance."
"I have been performing rope access work for PROFIL for the last three years. Since I was a kid, I’ve always enjoyed being suspended high up. My favorite activities when I was young were climbing, hiking and playing music. Majoring in environmental studies reaffirmed my desire for a career outdoors doing physical work. My main motivation is to not have to work in an office, sitting in front of a computer with a dozen women on either, so now I work outdoors and with primarily male teammates. Working outside has a certain authenticity to it, even in winter. I like manual labor and the efficiency that my profession requires. I like being able to learn something new every day in construction, or new tricks of the trade with rope work. Every work site is different."
Examples of work sites
Site protection - St Georges Elementary School in Marseille, France – April 2013
We set up fall-protection netting on an apartment building due to the risk of an exterior guard rail falling from the 60 meter high and 50 meter wide building. The client was the homeowner’s association. The building’s southwest façade was in poor shape. The concrete had been severely eroded by the sea air; entire sections were starting to peel off, threatening to fall onto the playground of the school below. Before being able to start a complete facelift, it was imperative to secure the façade with fall-protection netting. The work consisted of setting up anchors and cables and then raising the netting into place. It was a delicate situation dealing with residents who not only had to pay for the work but who also had the view from their balconies obstructed. The work site required five rope access specialists. This morning only Saïd and Eric are on site since the rest of the team had to attend to an emergency window cleaning of the Villa Méditérannée (Marseille 2013 Program).
Building exterior cleaning – Marseille’s Villa Méditéranée (France) – April 2013
The Villa Méditéranée building is located on the waterfront. Its architecture is composed of a striking overhang located above a seawater-filled basin. Just a few days before the inauguration, it was time to clean the exterior windows. A team of three rope access specialists took part in this project: Sandrine, Fred, and Alain. From time to time this type of job provides a “change of air” for rope access workers. Window cleaning requires special know-how, and there is specific technique for using the sponge and the squeegee to ensure that the windows are crystal clear. Working on such important buildings of noteworthy design is a source of great satisfaction in rope work. Once on the building’s roof, Fred started to clean the long vertical windows of the southern truss, while Sandrine and Alain worked on the far western section of the façade, right above the seawater basin. On the edge of the roof a lifeline and anchor studs were used to attach the ropes. Once the window span was cleaned, we would ascend back up to the roof, since descending was not a viable option. Anchor placement was essential to avoid wasting time when moving and reinstalling our ropes.
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