Whether you’re a keen rock climber looking to turn your hobby into a career, or you’re a construction worker looking to break away from the steely restrictions of scaffolding, there are certainly many exciting job opportunities for you in the rope access industry. For those looking to enter the field, however, there can be some confusion as to the kinds of jobs that involve rope access. What exactly does a job in rope access look like?
Due to the wide-ranging responsibilities and opportunities that come with working at height, rope access technicians espouse a variety of skill sets and qualifications. Put it this way: any task that needs to be done in high-up or confined places will probably require rope access technicians. For instance, here at Martin Castle Ltd we provide services spanning building maintenance, industrial safety, and even production rigging on film and TV sets.
It’s important to remember that rope access is a type of work positioning (a way of doing things) rather than a job in itself. As such, rope access jobs fall under no single profession or industry. As your career progresses, you may gain experience through several roles within a number of different sectors. Ultimately, it’s not a question of just ‘doing’ rope access, it’s rather a question of what you do with rope access.
In this post we’re going to give you a taste of the jobs and skills commonly related to rope access work, hopefully proving just how dynamic and exciting our industry is along the way.
Before looking at the specific industries in which rope access is used, we have to consider one essential aspect of any rope access job – qualifications.
A typical job listing in rope access will state:
- The qualifications necessary to do the work
- The nature of the work involved
With regards to the former, work at height usually requires a qualification from the International Rope Access Trade Association (IRATA, for short). These qualifications are gained by completing standardised training courses at varying levels which cover everything from rope access manoeuvres and rescue procedures, to equipment inspections and safety regulations. As for the latter, your role could be anything from cleaning, to bricklaying, to large-scale construction work – whatever suits you best!
Often, rope access work requires more than just an IRATA qualification. The job at hand may demand skills in other fields such as construction or welding. If you already have experience in a particular trade and you’re looking to apply your skills to new challenges, it may be worth undergoing rope access training as a step towards expanding your work.
On the other hand, if you have no such experience, an IRATA qualification is an excellent place to start when entering the industry. As we shall see, there are many IRATA level 1 jobs available for beginners working at height who want to learn the ropes of the industry (yes, pun absolutely intended) without worrying about having additional skills in other fields.
Some of the most exciting rope access work takes place out in mother nature. Those working in geotechnical industries are typically positioned up on cliffs, deep within caves, and along steep roadsides. As many natural structures are unreachable by means of scaffolding, rope access technicians are usually the best solution when it comes to stabilising cliffsides or preventing rock falls, as well as protecting historically significant land masses from erosion.
The work itself tends to involve a mixture of scaling, drilling, cabling, meshing and inspecting natural structures, often with a view to stabilising, preserving or constructing upon those structures. The road and rail industries, for example, rely heavily upon rope access technicians for the installation of rockfall netting and catch fences alongside embankments.
These jobs would be the most appropriate for those with a background in rock climbing and mountaineering – people for whom the natural environment is familiar territory. Furthermore, if you find the idea of actively protecting and preserving nature appealing, not to mention immersing yourself in its beauty on a day-to-day basis, then rope access jobs in the geotechnical field might be just right for you.
With such limited space and strict safety requirements, offshore platforms often require the specialist services of rope access workers. As a result, there is a high demand for rope access work on oil rigs and gas rigs.
The duties of rope access technicians on rigs vary greatly depending on experience and qualifications, but some potential offshore jobs include:
- Maintenance jobs (welding, plating, rust removal, painting, repair work)
- Inspection jobs (coating surveys, quality control, safety inspection)
- Construction jobs (rigging, pipe fitting, electrical work)
Offshore rope access jobs aren’t for the most inexperienced workers. According to IRATA, “many offshore rope access technicians have specialist work-related qualifications relevant to inspection and maintenance” as well as the necessary qualifications in rope access. It’s no secret that working on rigs can be hard work, compounded by long hours and even longer periods away from home. But it’s also no secret that offshore jobs can be very lucrative, make of that what you will.
Back on land, you can find many rope access jobs that involve working on man-made structures such as towers, bridges, radio masts, or dams. As contemporary buildings are becoming increasingly tall and complex, the need for specialist rope access services is blossoming in equal measure. After all, even the most unusually-shaped buildings have to be efficiently cleaned and repaired.
As with the offshore industries, this line of work encompasses a range of industrial roles including inspection, maintenance, construction and more. If you’re a skilled mason, for instance, rope access training could lead to a job restoring historic buildings. Or if you’re a qualified surveyor, you might soon find yourself dangling from a skyscraper in Dubai. Still, extra qualifications aren’t essential – there are many exciting jobs suitable for IRATA level 1 technicians, such as painting and cleaning extravagant buildings in major cities.
Rope access contracts can also be found in the leisure industry, where intricate theme park rides are in need of constant maintenance and inspection. You can read more about this application of rope access in our previous blog post on the subject.
There is a wealth of rope access jobs available in the energy sector, where power stations, refineries, wind farms and utility poles are in constant need of repair and maintenance work at height. With these structures, rope access provides an effective alternative to traditional methods of access which are liable to disrupt ongoing work and pose safety risks.
Safety is of paramount importance wherever the transmission and distribution of energy is taking place, so safe inspections and tests are essential in those areas on site where access is most difficult. As such, experienced rope access inspectors have a huge role to play in the surveyance and safe upkeep of our energy industries.
Training and supervision
As with any job or skill, rope access needs to be taught and assessed by experts in the field. Those experts are the trainers, supervisors and instructors who teach rope access courses and lead teams of technicians. Any task involving rope access workers will also require a supervisor. The main responsibilities of a supervisor are to ensure that safety requirements are being followed, to check that all equipment and rigging is secure, and to keep each member of the team properly trained and up to date with current legislation.
Unlike industrial and technical jobs where rope access is simply a way of performing other tasks, trainers and supervisors consider rope access the subject of their work. These jobs are competitive and difficult, requiring years of experience and an IRATA level 3 qualification to boot! In a similar vein, those experienced in rope access looking for a drastic change of tack may consider becoming mountain climbing guides or rock climbing instructors.
It should be clear by now just how multifaceted the rope access industry really is, not only in terms of responsibilities and working opportunities, but also in terms of physical locations and life experiences. There is no single answer to the question of what a job in rope access looks like. But we do know that whatever the responsibilities and duties of a particular job in rope access may be, it always starts with the right qualifications.
At Martin Castle Ltd we are dedicated to providing thorough training courses to workers and employers within this unique and varied industry, regardless of experience or background.