Rope Access Equipment vs Scaffolding: What You Need to Know before Hiring a Contractor

rope access cladding

As a property owner or landlord, you have probably built up long-term work relationships with a number of individuals over the years. One of the most important of these relationships is the one you have with contractors, who maintain and renovate your properties.

As a business person, you’re always looking to move forward and be more efficient. When hiring contractors who work at height, this is no different: you want to get the job done in the safest and most efficient way possible. The equipment that a contractor uses is vital. In this post, we’ll delve into how to evaluate whether to hire a contractor who uses scaffolding or rope access equipment to work at height.

We will compare the two based on the following factors:

  • Safety
  • Speed
  • Convenience
  • Cost efficiency

Safety

When it comes to working at height, the main priority is always safety. The ultimate goal is to avoid accidents and danger as much as humanly possible. To do this, a safe work system needs to be maintained at all times for workers, the property, passersby and the environment.

According to IRATA’s Work and Safety Analysis 2017, in 2016, there was just one case of fatality reported while working at height using rope access equipment. In addition to this, there were just two major injuries. As a property owner, you can rest easy knowing that your project is unlikely to ever come to a standstill due to an accident.

We won’t compare accident rates when using rope access equipment versus scaffolding directly, as they are measured differently. In fact, scaffolding statistics only account for the installation of the system, while rope access statistics account for installation and actual work.

Speed

Time is money and the more time your property project takes, the more you will pay. Rope equipment enables quicker access than scaffolding, as it is lightweight and can be installed and removed in minutes. Scaffolding, on the other hand, can take a team days to erect — that’s before any work is even completed. By reducing the overall lead time on your project, you save significant money.

The prevailing opinion in the construction industry is that there is no longer any viable reason to use scaffolding when working at height — unless for basic building works.

Making a Case for Speed

As part of a project in Grijpskerk, the Netherlands, technicians were tasked with moving more than 200 meters of cable. This needed to be pulled through a pipe bridge; 100 meters of cable also needed to be removed. The usual solution would have been to completely scaffold the bridge to provide access to the work platform.

However, instead of scaffolding, a single rope access team completed the task. Not having to build the initial scaffolding allowed them to start installation immediately and, after they were done, they could leave without having to clear up. This would not have been possible had they opted for scaffolding.

Because of this, the overall cost of the project was reduced by 25%.

Convenience

Flexibility

Using rope access equipment over scaffolding gives contractors much more flexibility when doing the work. Hard-to-reach areas won’t pose the same problems as they do for scaffolding, as rope access techniques do not require a large amount of open space beneath the work area in order to set up a platform. This allows extremely difficult places, such as domed roofs or breaching ducts, to be reached easily, making inspection or repair work simple.

Disruption

Scaffolding is built from the ground up and takes up a lot of ground space. This is quite inconvenient and can be disruptive for your tenants or your clients’ businesses. The rope access technique, however, works from top to bottom. Technicians install, or use existing, anchors or abseil rail systems on the roof. This allows them to complete the work with minimal disruption and allows business to continue as usual.

Rope access also has a minimal impact on architecture and reduces ongoing maintenance costs, due to the ease of access upon a return visit. Not only does it take longer to initiate and close off a scaffolding project — in some cases weeks — but it is also very conspicuous. Return and maintenance costs will definitely cost you more in the long-run with scaffolding.

Costs

Finally, it makes sense to compare the differences in cost of scaffolding compared to using rope access equipment.

Rope access versus scaffolding cost comparison

Type Scaffolding Rope Access
Permits Permits will almost always be required. A lot of room is needed to do the relevant work and it will be necessary to get permits for all scaffolding. In the majority of cases, a permit will not be needed, meaning you not only cut down on costs, but you also save time.
Material Building maintenance companies will issue you a quote. The cost of scaffolding materials will make up a large part of this quote and it can be difficult to stick to budget if additional scaffolding needs to be erected. As there is no set-up cost, overall costs are considerably lower. All you need to pay for is the labour and materials to get the job done.
Money value in time If your project is taking longer than anticipated, for any reason, then you will lose money. This is especially true for commercial properties with retail or other service entities. The inconvenience and disruption can drive customers away and dig into profits. Delays will not usually affect businesses, as the technicians use ropes that are anchored to the roof of the building. It does not take up any space on the ground, meaning it’s business as usual for your tenants.

 

Let’s look at a real-life example. The below table is from a case study by Megarme, which compared rope access and scaffolding on a 70 meter radio tower refurbishment on Zirku Island, Abu Dhabi.

 

Description Rope Access Scaffold
Site set up Ropes rigged in 2 days. Minimum of 40 days to erect and 20 days to dismantle.
Manpower 16-man team for blasting and painting. 30 men needed for scaffolding work and 10 men needed for blasting and painting.
Job completion 60 days. 120 days scaffolding time, plus work.

 

By using rope access equipment, the project can be completed in half the time, requires fewer man-hours and less materials and, ultimately, results in a much lower cost.

In the UK, rope access companies are becoming increasingly advanced and taking on projects all over the world, including, for example, the Qatar 2022 World Cup. As a property owner keen to make your business more efficient and slash costs — without sacrificing safety — you’d be wise to seriously consider employing contractors who use rope access equipment over scaffolding.

 

Image source: High Access Solutions