Working at Heights: How to Turn Adventure into a Career
Here at Rap Jumping, we’ve turned our passion for abseiling and rappelling into a career by providing others with the opportunity to learn the ropes. We love teaching adrenaline junkies and timid souls how to descend the side of a seven-storey building; there’s nothing better than witnessing the look of accomplishment on someone’s face when they reach the bottom!
However, rope work as a career transcends the recreational industry – it also extends to the industrial sector. Have you ever found yourself sitting at your desk, only to gaze out the window in envy at the window cleaners who spend their day suspended halfway down the side of a building? Sure it’s not for everyone, but many with a love of adventure would swap their desk job for those dizzying city views any day.
If you have a passion for rope work, there are many opportunities to convert that passion for adventure into a career. Here in Australia, rope access technicians are required to complete a wide range of tasks – from installation projects through to building maintenance.
So how exactly do you get into the industrial rope industry here in Australia? Read on to find out!
Industrial Rope Access Trade Association of Australia (IRATA Australia)
IRATA is the only global rope access trade association in the work-at-height sector; when it comes to industrial rope access in Australia, IRATA Australia is the peak industry association. The organisation represents the interest of more than 30 member companies (such as Australian Industrial Rope Access and Direct Access Services) and employs more than 500 rope access technicians. The member companies are diverse and work across a range of industries, such as property, engineering, construction, mining and gas, and also telecommunications. IRATA Australia also trains more than 2,000 rope access technicians annually and services 5,000 client companies nationally.
What qualifications do you need to become an industrial rope access technician?
To become a rope access technician, you need to complete formal training and obtain a technical grade. IRATA International has a training, assessment and certification scheme that is applied to all IRATA members. Depending on their experience and level of training and assessment, rope access technicians are grouped into one of three technical grades:
Level 1: Level 1 rope access technicians are able to perform a range of specified tasks under the supervision of a Level 3 technician.
Level 2: Level 2 technicians are equipped with Level 1 skills, plus more complex rigging, rescue and rope access skills. They can work under the supervision of a Level 3 technician.
Level 3: Level 3 technicians are proficient in all skills applicable to Level 1 and 2 technicians, and are deemed capable of taking complete responsibility for rope access safety in regards to work projects. They must understand relevant work techniques and legislation, have extensive knowledge of advanced rigging and rescue procedures, hold a first aid certificate and also have knowledge of the IRATA training, assessment and certification scheme.
Training and certification can be acquired via IRATA Australia members; these companies work in line with the IRATA training and certification scheme. Every course is assessed by IRATA personnel who are independent of the training company.
What sort of jobs can rope access technicians do?
Rope access technicians are required for a broad range of jobs – virtually any job that involves a difficult-to-access area.
Rope access technicians can find themselves undertaking a wide range of jobs, including facade maintenance (e.g. building repair and maintenance); non-destructive testing (NDT); working in confined spaces (e.g. boilers, cooling towers, shafts and water tanks); geotechnical work (e.g. rock demolition, rockfall netting and soil stabilisation); rigging services and displays (e.g. promotional, marketing and seasonal displays in shopping centres and public spaces); window cleaning in high-rise buildings; working on oil rigs; and also renewable energy (e.g. wind farm maintenance and repairs).
The Sydney Morning Herald published an article in 2006, interviewing the operations manager and founder of Ascend Australia and one of their new employees. It’s a great read for anyone who is considering getting into the rope access industry.
How safe are these jobs?
When you see some of the spaces rope access technicians are required to access, safety certainly does come to mind. Working at heights or in confined spaces can be dangerous for those who are ill-prepared or inexperienced.
Back in the day, rope access technicians faced a far more dangerous occupation. Rather than the safety harnesses used in the 21st century, they had to complete their work using what was known as Bosun’s Chair – essentially a plank of wood used as a seat at the end of a rope. This method was widely used in the early 1900s – including during the construction of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s. However, in building the dam 93 ‘High Scalers’ lost their lives, demonstrating just how risky work as a rope access technician was in the past.
Today, rope access technicians enjoy an excellent safety record – just as we do here at Rap Jumping(we have a 100% safety record). A highly regulated industry with a widespread training and accreditation scheme – as well as the use of state-of-the-art equipment – has meant that working as a technician in countries such as Australia is very safe.
Thinking of joining the industry?
If you have a passion for extreme sports and the great outdoors, have a sense of adventure and enjoy abseiling/rappelling, working as a rope access technician could be the career you’ve been looking for!