Rope Access appears to have become “the preferred” method of façade access for external building maintenance. This seems to be driven by a subjective view that BMUs and permanent cradle rails are unsightly, a view supported by commercial pressures not to use up the most valuable floor plates within residential buildings, and to select the lowest capital cost solution. My question is, at what point does Rope Access become unreasonable ?
BS8560 suggests that we should consider the scale of the works, the duration, the frequency, any heavy materials, etc .. when deciding the most suitable method of maintenance access. It suggests that it is “desirable” to be guided by the work at height hierarchy when selecting the access method, and that these other considerations should also be taken into account.
I recently saw a 42 storey building, whose cladding had to be finished from the outside using Rope Access from the top. This was to an extent reactive to the existing structure, and I believe that the finished building was to have a BMU for cleaning, inspection, and glass replacement. Having said that, I regularly encounter 20+ storey new designs that have made specific Rope Access provision as the sole method of external envelope maintenance.
Rope Access is, in my opinion, personal fall prevention (there is some argument about this), and therefore at the third level within the work at height hierarchy. It has a fantastic safety record, and there can be little doubt that the Rope Access technicians are focussed on their location and method of access at all times. .. but my question still stands. At what point does Rope Access become an unreasonable method for regular, repeated, extended duration, at extreme height, when there is an established, collective, well proven technical alternative .. and there are also Robotics ?