Those looking to enter the rope access industry may be somewhat overwhelmed by the training and qualifications required to get started. From manoeuvres and rescue procedures to regulations and safety requirements, it may seem that there is a lot to learn at first. But we think that the process gets far more manageable with clarity and practice. As such, this post will be diving into the exact nature of rope access training courses so that you know what to expect in future. We hope that once you understand the basic outline of rope access training, you feel more encouraged to get stuck in!
Rope access training courses have three certification levels, each of which have different content and criteria. These courses are devised and assessed by The Industrial Rope Access Training Association (IRATA), the international governing body within the rope access industry. In sum, the general structure and requirements of each level is as follows:
- Level 1: entry level course covering a range of rope access manoeuvres, the inspection of rigging equipment, fundamental rescue procedures and current legislation.
- Level 2: intermediate course building on level 1 training that teaches the knowledge and practice of rope rigging, safety requirements, rescues and QA procedures.
- Level 3: highest level course teaching a comprehensive knowledge of advanced rescue techniques and best practices, allowing those who pass to become site supervisors.
Completing each of these levels gains you a qualification which lasts for three years before expiring, and each course costs around the £700-800 mark. Progression between levels requires a minimum of one year and 1,000 hours spent on the ropes (with hours logged and certified by a level 3 supervisor). For obvious reasons, candidates are expected to have an appropriate level of health, fitness, strength, and coordination.
Preparing for training
So that you’re not completely in the dark, we recommend that you brush up on some basic knowledge before you start formal training. Familiarise yourself with some of the manoeuvres required for rope access work, gain a basic understanding of the knots and supplies that you will be using, and read a little bit about work at height regulations.
While you don’t need to know absolutely everything about rope access beforehand (that is what the course is for), it’s best to start training with some fundamentals already in place. It will save you a bit of time as you won’t have to keep catching up, and it will make a good impression on your trainers and supervisors. Read through some of the articles on our blog to get started.
You may also want to loosen your muscles by doing regular stretches and light exercises in the run-up to your training. The physical aspect of rope access isn’t too taxing, but certain manoeuvres can be quite demanding so it’s best to prepare your body too.
Rope access training courses take place over the course of five days and as such the progression can be quite intensive, but it’s still enough time to cover all the necessary material. As with any trade, you will gain the majority of your learning experience in practice when you start working on real projects, but it’s important for employers and supervisors to know that you are properly qualified before you get on the ropes.
Even if you are coming into training from a rock climbing background it’s important to pay full attention: the rope access industry involves completely different skills and terms to those used in a rock climbing context. After all, this is not a sport but an industry with high standards of safety.
The training is largely based in practical exercises, and theoretical knowledge is taught during breaks in between these exercises. For the most part, you will be watching and learning from demonstrations performed by your trainers before repeating their movements yourself. So don’t expect to spend so much time sitting down and absorbing information, expect to be up there on the ropes practicing important exercises and manoeuvres yourself. Make sure that you listen carefully to the feedback you receive so that you can see improvements on your form and technique.
Each training course culminates in a written and practical assessment. They are examined and supervised by IRATA assessors with years of experience in the industry and the highest of rope access qualifications, but don’t let that scare you. Just remember, the course is there to help you learn more and perform better. The main interest of the assessors will be to ensure that all trainees know their responsibilities and are capable of carrying out tasks safely as a team.
Ultimately, nobody is trying to trick you out in these courses, and you are as entitled to ask the assessors questions as they are to grill you on technique and regulations. You should make the most of this opportunity to practice and improve under the inspection of an industry expert. Here are some of the exercises that you should expect to be tested on:
- Assembling a harness rig
- Tying specific types of knots
- Checking for faults in equipment
- Performing rescue manoeuvres
- Ascending the ropes
At level 1 you will only be tested on the material you have been taught in training, but at higher levels you might be presented with a few curveball scenarios and questions to get you thinking on the spot. You can only afford two minor faults during the practical assessment, as three strikes constitutes a fail. However, if you play your cards right and practice enough times, two faults will be more than enough leeway to earn you a pass. One of the main faults to avoid throughout every manoeuvre is dangling from only one rope without any backup; remember to check at every step of the process that you have both your main line and safety line secured.