Safety equipment and training provider Vertical Safety Systems (VSS) sales manager Shaun Wakelin states that easier access to rope access services and the availability of better-qualified technicians are contributing to rising demand for such services.
He adds that growing awareness among companies and safety officers of the risks of working at height and the legal requirements pertaining to employees working at height is further driving the growth in demand for rope access services.
Rope access technology has been used in South Africa since the late 1980s, often in rudimentary form, with very little safety backup, VSS notes.
In recent years, major advances have been made towards adopting a system very similar to the global Industrial Rope Access Trade Association standard.
The South African Industrial Rope Access Association, which changed its name to the Rope Access and Fall Arrest Associa- tion (Rafaa) in 2005, was established in the 1990s to apply international standards locally.
Working with the Department of Labour and the South African Bureau of Standards, Rafaa helped to create unit standards for training, assessments and operations, which have been registered with the South African Qualifications Authority (Saqa), VSS states.
In 2009, Rafaa merged with the Specialised Access Engineering Manufacturers Association to form the Institute for Work at Height (IWH).
Meanwhile, rope access services provider Skyriders marketing manager Mike Zinn reports that the industrial rope access industry is still experiencing a shortage of experienced Level 2 and Level 3 technicians with specific skills sets.
“The industry is experiencing problems in the various skills sets and in technicians’ limited variety of work experience,” he states, adding that this challenge relates to the general shortage of skilled artisans in South Africa.
Skyriders upgraded its training facility in 2011 and invested more than R100 000 in infrastructure and equipment for the facility, which is located in Midrand, Gauteng, to train fall-arrest technicians and level 1 to 3 rope access technicians.
“About 1 600 students have been trained to date,” Zinn notes.
Skyriders subsidiary Height Wise director Penny Fabricius told Engineering News in July 2011 that the facility would support the work-at-height sector’s efforts to recognise the IWH as an official licensing body.
She explained that the IWH professional body would ensure that training is in line with the Occupational Health and Safety Act, as well as the standards set by Saqa.
The IWH governs all work-at-height sectors, including the scaffolding, mobile elevating work platform, rope access and suspended-platform industries.
Skyriders joined Rafaa in 1998 and became a member of the IWH in 2009 when Rafaa became the IWH.
“Membership of the IWH is beneficial, as it provides updates on and support for the rope-access industry, as well as ensuring a high standard within the work-at-height sector,” Zinn explains.
The IWH keeps abreast of notices of good practice updates, ensures a high standard of training and operation within the work-at-height industry, keeps the industry in line with international trends and sets the benchmark for training standards.
Skyriders further states that it is in the process of obtaining its OHSAS 18001 – an inter- national occupational health and safety management system specification that assists in ensuring safety in the workplace.
Meanwhile, VSS notes that one of the longest- standing challenges in the work-at-height industry is overcoming old and entrenched attitudes to methods and brands.
“International equipment, methods and market leadership have progressed, and while the IWH and its affiliates are working hard to keep our industry current, much of the local industry has still not caught up,” Wakelin states.