How to Begin a Career in Rope Access

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How to Begin a Career in Rope Access
Rope access on a steel structure (Photos by Gareth Ashworth)

Industrial rope access is a method of using mountaineering and caving techniques to get to elevated locations on buildings, bridges and structures that may be too difficult or dangerous for cranes or scaffolding. Rope access uses similar harnesses and, virtually, the same ropes, helmets and knots as rock climbing or mountaineering. It has the added safety of having two, completely redundant, ropes or attachment systems.

Skill level:

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    The best way to begin a career in rope access is to gain experience with ropes, harnesses and knots, to be comfortable at heights and to be in good physical condition. Most rope access techs start out as rock climbers. Many have worked as rock climbing instructors or climbing guides. Another common background is military service.

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    As with any skill, education and certification are necessary. The International Rope Access Trade Association, or IRATA, is the most prominient organisation certifying rope access workers. The Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians, or SPRAT, is the North American counterpart. Both organisations offer training, assessment and certification documentation.

    How to Begin a Career in Rope Access
    Rope access training facility
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    On its own, certification in rope access only allows a tech to work. Further job skills are usually necessary to gain employment. Inspection certifications, especially visual and ultrasonic, are useful for rope access. Painting, window cleaning, maintenance, grinding and welding are also valuable skills. Of course, with more skills and certifications, come better chances of finding a job.

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    Finding work as a rope access technician is easier in some cities than in others. Relocation may be necessary to get work. Rope access is common in the oil industry, with its towering vessels and huge drilling platforms. For this reason, the East Coast, Gulf States, California and Alaska are the areas where most North American rope access companies are based. Large cities with skyscrapers, sports arenas, amusement parks and bridges also offer rope access opportunities. With the increasing focus on green energy, work on wind towers is becoming more widespread.

    How to Begin a Career in Rope Access
    A rope access tech working on the dome roof of a sports arena

Tips and warnings

  • IRATA has three levels of rope access certification. Level one requires being under constant supervision and allows very little responsibility beyond simple tasks. Once working, new techs must keep track of jobs and hours worked in a logbook to be eligible for advanced training and certification.
  • Many industries require drug testing and background checks.

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