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We have specific equipment for ”working at height” jobs, for example:
- Wind turbine climbing kit
- Roof climbing kit
- Climbing kit for towers such as theatre stage towers, telecoms towers
- Overhead line riggers kit
- Helicopter rescue equipment
- High rise window cleaning
- Tree felling equipment
All of those kits will include several pieces of hardware such as pulleys, blocks and tackle, descenders and ascenders, slings, harnesses, carabiners, connectors, to name but a few. Within each of those categories the choice is vast.
A key element is safety rope. Safety rope is all around us in every industry, rope for sale is often safety related and it is one of its most common uses. For example, safety rope is a critical part of a fire fighter’s kit and means the difference between life and death on a daily basis. This example clearly demonstrates how rope can be used to create safety even in the most adverse conditions.
Life Safety Ropes
Although rope can be made from a number of different materials, fire fighting services only use synthetic rope due to the nature of the working conditions. Synthetic safety rope can withstand high temperatures and tough conditions more than natural fibres many of which would disintegrate in such conditions.
Life safety ropes are used to remove people from dangerous buildings, escape ropes are used for self-rescue should a fire fighter get stuck in a tricky situation, and utility ropes are used where it is not a person that needs lowering but equipment to aid the rescue. Fire fighters most often use the kernmantal rope construction also due to its better resilience compared to twisted or braided models. Fire fighters are also taught how to care for, clean, and store the ropes to ensure maximum safety. Safety rope may be the only means for rescue for a fire fighter on the job, and it is part of their intensive training to learn how to work with these safety ropes including tying appropriate knots within a small window of time.
Helicopter rescue equipment shows how pulleys at work are essential. Helicopters play a vital role in the rescuing of casualties and others in difficulties, be it a very sick or injured patient that needs to get to hospital quickly, or the victim of an accident that has happened in a remote or difficult location. What we can only trust in is the skill levels of the pilot and crew and how sophisticated the equipment is.
As well as being equipped with intensive medical care facilities, these helicopters also have advanced rigging equipment for the lowering and lifting of persons or objects.
One technique used in rescuing is rappelling which can be any of the following:
- lowering oneself using a rope hanging from the helicopter
- controlled lowering of an object attached to a rope, e.g. a stretcher
- controlled lowering by a person on the ground of a person or an object attached to a rope
- using a ladder attached to the helicopter to descend or ascend
Another technique is winching. Both the rappelling and winching systems are reliant on hardware such as pulleys, blocks, slings, ropes, cables, carabiners, snatch blocks, etc. The components are selected according to the expected weight of the loads to be raised or lowered, the efficiency of a pulley system depends on how many pulleys are used in the upper block and how many are used in the lower.
Abseiling is a popular pastime, but is also a means for people to travel outside high rise buildings cleaning the windows. There are, of course, stringent rules and regulations in place and the cleaners are thoroughly trained in the use and maintenance of their equipment, as well as how to clean windows! Some high-rise buildings have their windows cleaned by other methods, one of which is where the cleaners work from a cradle. The cradle can either be suspended from the top of the building or may be a permanent fixture. Both types have complicated pulley systems in place to raise and lower the cradle as the cleaners progress down the skyscraper.
Many would consider cleaning skyscrapers’ windows a dangerous job but surprisingly it is an occupation which has a low accident rate.
Tree Surgery or Tree Felling
Mention tree felling and many people will immediately imagine a singing lumberjack wearing a tartan shirt with a saw or an axe in his hand! In fact there’s much much more to tree felling than the feller himself. Tree felling is down to a tree surgeons experience and judgement but also, for safety reasons, has to be an exact science. Not only does the equipment have to be 100% safe, but also the tree fellers, both up the tree and on the ground, have to know every detail about their felling equipment and how it works.
As well as the tools and saws that actually cut the tree, and the safety clothing worn by the workers – helmets, eye and ear protectors, gloves, boots, etc., there’s a whole host of rigging components that may be used for the felling operations including:
- Stainless Steel Shackles
- Dead eye ropes
- Lowering devices
- Hubs and plates
- Round slings
- Stainless steel carabiners
- A pulley system, otherwise known as block and tackle.
Regulations are in place for every aspect of the felling, the workers’ support mechanisms, their back-up support mechanisms, the protection of the workers on the ground, the condition of the rigging, and the level of knowledge and/or expertise of the fellers. The rigging systems are quite complicated and the components have to be carefully chosen for their strength, their suitability and their durability. Tree surgeons need a whole host of equipment to keep them safe in the workplace of the canopy. Tree felling is an art, and those who undertake the work rely on a network of rope, bungee cords, straps, and slings, to keep them mobile in the tree tops. Regulations mean that workers must have a personal fall protection system in place which includes ropes and harnesses after a risk assessment has been undertaken. Positioning is incredibly important and this includes changeovers, harness setting, friction knot tying and climbing line positioning.
Access to the rope and footlocking technique are equally important. It is crucial that each point of the network can support the climber and any equipment he/she may be carrying. The system should be attached to a two load bearing anchor with a backup system in place to which the worker should also be attached.
The role of the ground staff in tree felling safety is imperative. There must be good communication between the ground and the canopy and there must be rope systems in place for passing up materials and equipment as well as bringing it down. It is the role of the ground worker to ensure knots, kinks, and tangles to not occur, and that any falling wood and debris is cleared of machinery and anyone else working in the vicinity. The person on the ground controls the ropes and modifies the systems as the job progresses.
As well as personal protection equipment ( e.g. safety helmets, eye and hearing protection, gloves, leg protection, and protective boots), tree surgeons need a whole host of fall protection materials which need to be inspected and updated regularly.
A work positioning system includes a sit harness with a pelvic attachment point and leg loop straps with some models also including shoulder straps. This positioning equipment supports the climber in the canopy and the anchor point must be no more than 250mm below the worker, and slack should not exceed 500mm. Adjustable lanyards are used as a secondary anchor to prevent swing. They also provide a supplementary load-bearing point when changing anchor. Fall arrest systems are made up of an anchor point, a full body harness and a method of connection between the two that is energy absorbent and shock absorbent.
All systems use climbing ropes which have to be between 10mm and 14mm in diameter according to safety regulations. Users must carefully consider the possibility of friction hitches and choose their rope accordingly with consideration of the other equipment being used on the particular job. The fibre type and cord diameter will have an impact on the types of knots needed as well as the impact of heat on the whole system.
Tree fellers are knot geniuses and the tie, dress and set of each knot must be spot on. Splices should be made by a manufacturer and suitable for the rope system in place. Karabiners are another vital piece of kit in tree felling rope systems as they connect the harness to a lifeline and are spring loaded and self-locking for ultimate safety.
Tree felling safety is no joke, and all of the parts must be in place for a safe working environment as well as the feller having specialist knowledge about their equipment.
Responsible employers ensure their employees are adequately trained in the use of all working-at-height equipment.