Incident Prevention Magazine

Brian Bourquin

Rope Access Work in Today’s Line Trade

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Rope has always been at the core of many operations and is the principal means of removing an injured person from a structure or manhole. In recent years, labor laws have revised and expanded expectations, particularly for worker fall protection on towers. The quest for methods to accommodate these rules has created opportunities for new applications of rope techniques, introducing wider use of rope access and rope descent technologies into the line industry.

Rope access describes rope-use techniques that have evolved from centuries-old rope applications incorporating maritime, construction and, in particular, mountain climbing or controlled descent methods. In the firefighting world, rescue using rope is referred to as “high-angle” or “technical” rescue. Rope access has been used for centuries in construction, and most readers today are familiar with scenes of lumberjacks, wind energy blade inspections, and dam and bridge inspectors suspended over the sides of structures.

In the line trade, we traditionally think of rope in terms of its use as a handline, which, in the event of an emergency, doubles as a rescue line. This rescue technique is still as relevant now as it was in the late 19th century, as the idea to plan your rescues is not a new one. Any differences between rope rescue today and rope rescue in the early days of power lines are primarily due to technological advances. One example of these advances is Buckingham Manufacturing Co.’s OX BLOCK, which is used for hurt-man rescue and self-rescue, as well as lowering, raising and snubbing loads.

To the employer researching rope access and controlled descent techniques for workers, it is important that line personnel be involved in the research process so that the techniques, tools and training that are adopted effectively match the needs of the workplace. Keep in mind that rope access is not a substitute for all work tasks – it is simply another tool. Both training and research are critical for employers and employees considering rope access techniques; this includes the review and assessment of tools and other items currently available on the market, including rescue-rated blocks and property-rated handlines.

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