Mike Zinn, marketing manager, Skyriders

Q: What circumstances and industries depend on rope access?
A: Rope access is really just a means of moving from one work point to another and is pertinent to environments where access by any other means, is difficult or constrained by height or depth. Once rope-access technicians have reached a targeted area, they are required to undertake specific work, such as inspection, repair, cleaning, painting or installation.

Industries that regularly use our services include commercial, industrial, construction, power generation, mining and petrochemicals. Our rope-access technicians therefore need to be qualified in trade skills such as welding, non-destructive testing and inspection, grit blasting, ultra-high pressure washing, protective coating applications and rigging.

Q: How do you select a team for a specific job?
A: The most important consideration when selecting a team is the actual scope of work – be it inspection, painting, welding and so on – that needs to be delivered once rope access has positioned the team in the right place. Every three years the technicians are required to either progress or renew their level of expertise, from levels 1 to 3, achieved through experience and measured by the number of hours logged. Our senior supervisors have experience on a variety of sites given that rope access is so flexible.

Q: Are there any restrictions to your work?
A: There are no restrictions per se to the type of work Skyriders undertakes, as long as the basic principles of safe rope access are adhered to and in accordance with all relevant regulations and requirements, inclusive of having the necessary personal protective equipment. The highest project we have undertaken to date was a 300m smokestack, the tallest in the country. In terms of confined-space work, our record to date is a 300m shaft for a pump-stage system for an electricity utility.

Q: How do you assess danger for your teams and maintain project safety?
A: A comprehensive and detailed planning session is conducted for every contract, and all possible factors – from the overall methodology right down to task-specific risk assessment – are considered.

Each step of the project is analysed to determine a risk profile, inclusive of what the level of danger might be; the percentage probability of any incidents, procedures and equipment needed; and how we can most effectively mitigate all risks.

This process of detailed task-specific risk assessment, as well as fall-protection planning, ensures that the rope-access team can operate safely, and successfully complete the scope of work.

Q: What is an example of a challenging commercial project?
A: Although the commercial building sector accounts for just 15% of our total current workload, it can be demanding, such as the three-phase maintenance and repair project we recently completed at the Greenstone Shopping Centre in Johannesburg.

During the first phase, Skyriders teams entered the mall’s ceiling workspace to remove all loose and dangerous materials, thereby providing other contractors with a safe working environment. Phase 2 required the installation of a temporary work-platform system comprising steel cables, onto which heavy-duty nets were attached, enabling specialised ceiling, fire protection, lighting and electrical contractors to access affected areas.

Steel rigging was utilised extensively because the large steel cables needed to be installed on existing steel structures, and this required the use of specifically placed chemical anchors. Phase 3 was to move the nets to different locations.

Q: During the design phase, should architects consider how access for maintenance impacts on a building?
A: We partner with Riggers Steeplejacks, which specialises in systems based on temporary and permanent access systems for any structure – be it suspended platforms, rope access or a combination of both. Between us, we tend to engage with architects in the design phase, not necessarily to steer the design process itself but to offset practical advice.

For example, if a sloping facade is a feature, we examine the best way to access it in order to clean glass panels. However, such upfront involvement is generally the exception rather than the norm.

Q: How is the use of drones changing the company’s profile?
A: The Elios drone technology that we have introduced from Switzerland allows us to carry out difficult or high-risk inspections. Autonomous access is definitely the way forward. However, it is important to note that, currently, drones can only identify problems. Thereafter, rope access and other Skyriders services come into play to carry out the required follow-up investigation/inspection, maintenance or repairs.

By Kerry Dimmer
Illustration: Janine Petzer

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