Rope Access Systems

Hopefully, every safety manager is familiar with OSHA and ANSI requirements and standards for fall restraint and fall arrest systems. Self-retracting lanyards (SRLs), shock absorbing lanyards, and anchorage points are all protective equipment covered in current standards. But, what should you do when the protective equipment specified in current standards does not apply for your specific work application? For example, how can workers access the outside of the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington, to power wash it? Traditional fall arrest systems are not going to accomplish that particular job because SRLs and shock absorbing lanyards cannot suspend a worker and are not long enough to do the job if they could suspend a worker.

Rope Access Systems are designed for fall protection where conventional methods cannot work. Rope Access Systems allow workers to descend, ascend, and traverse ropes while suspended by a harness or work seat. Rope Access Systems require a Dual Rope System, meaning workers must use a back-up rope in case their primary rope system fails. The Dual Rope System is separated into primary and secondary rope systems, which means each worker requires a total of two ropes. In addition to the Dual Rope System, Rope Access Systems require the Buddy System, meaning workers should work in pairs of two. The Buddy System accommodates partner rescue, while the Dual Rope System accommodates interchangeability between the primary and secondary ropes, horizontal movement, and self-rescue. Rope Access Systems also require a minimum of two secure attachment points at all times, one point each to both primary and secondary rope systems.

Although OSHA and ANSI currently do not address Rope Access Systems directly, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and ASTM International, formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), have standards for Rope Access Systems. The ISO 22846 standard provides the fundamentals for the use of Rope Access Systems for work at height where rope systems are the primary means of access and fall protection. ASTM E2505 is the standard for Industrial Rope Access and specifies that rope access should only be used if conventional access methods, such as ladders or aerial work platforms, are not feasible or economical. Also, some OSHA interpretation letters exist outlining basic rope access parameters. The Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians (SPRAT) has created industry-specific standards called Safe Practices for Rope Access Work, Certification Requirements for Rope Access Work, and Bridge Inspection. These SPRAT standards outline general safety requirements, requirements to obtain certification, and techniques in the inspection of various bridge types.

There are several advantages to Rope Access Systems. With Rope Access Systems, heights are virtually unlimited, difficult locations can be reached safely, and they are extremely versatile. In addition, Rope Access Systems have a low impact in the event of a fall; they generally cost less, and can be combined with conventional fall protection methods. They also offer 100 percent fall protection from the moment the worker leaves the ground. However, there are some disadvantages as well. For example, Rope Access Systems require a high level of specialized training and industry-specific equipment.

To use Rope Access Systems correctly, companies need technical competency, skilled and certified technicians, and appropriate management. Rope Access Systems work in almost any environment—as long as conventional methods of fall protection are not possible. Before deciding that Rope Access Systems are right for your company, be sure to do your research. Contacting SPRAT is a great place to start.


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Nathan Muller

Senior Technical Writer | Rigidlifelines.com
Nathan Muller is the Senior Technical Writer for Spanco and Rigid Lifelines. Nathan has nearly four years of experience in technical communications and copyediting. He graduated from Bob Jones University with a B.A. in English and a minor in Professional Writing. He is also a member of the Society of Technical Communication.