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African Petrochemicals is South Africa’s leading quarterly print and digital trade magazine for the past 15 years. Featuring all the latest petrochemical industry news, special reports, technological advances and much more.

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Skyriders plumbs the depths and scales the heights for its clients

From high up in the air to confined spaces below ground, Skyriders Access Specialists (Pty) Ltd. continues to be in demand in a diverse range of industries, from commercial building to industrial, construction, power generation, mining, and petrochemicals.

This broad market focus means that Skyriders’ rope access technicians need to be qualified in trade skills such as welding, Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) and inspection, grit blasting, Ultra-High Pressure (UHP) washing, protective-coating applications, and rigging. “It must be borne in mind that rope-access is really just a means of moving from one work point to another, and is pertinent to environments where access by any other means is difficult, or constrained by height or depth,” Marketing Manager Mike Zinn comments.

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Skyriders undertook maintenance work on a 300 m smokestack the tallest in the country

Once rope-access technicians have reached a targeted area, they are required to undertake specific work required, such as inspection, repair, cleaning, painting, or installation. “Our senior supervisors have garnered experience on a number of difference sites. With rope access being so flexible, the most important consideration when selecting a team is the actual scope of work that needs to be delivered once rope access has positioned the team in the right place,” Zinn explains.

Rope access technicians are required to either progress or renew their level of expertise every three years, from Level 1 to Level 3, with the total number of hours logged being indicative of the experience accumulated. There are no restrictions per se as to the type of work undertaken, as long as the basic principles of safe rope-access are adhered to, and that all relevant regulations and requirements are complied with, including having the necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

“The highest project we have undertaken to date was a 300 m smokestack, the tallest in the country. In terms of confined-space work, our record to date is a 300 m shaft for a pump-stage system for an electricity utility,” Zinn highlights. A highly comprehensive and detailed planning session is conducted for every contract, taking into account all possible factors, from the overall methodology right down to task-specific risk assessment.

Each individual step of the project is analysed in order to be able to compile a risk profile, inclusive of what the level of danger or hazard might be, the percentage probability of any potential incidents, procedures and equipment needed, and how the total risk can best be mitigated. “This process of detailed, task-specific risk assessment, as well as the accompanying fall-protection planning, ensures that the rope access team can operate safely, and complete the full scope of work successfully,” Zinn points out.

“Although the commercial building sector accounts for just 15% of our total workload currently, we are in demand across the entire spectrum, from construction to cleaning. It can be a challenging environment, such as the three-phase maintenance and repair project we recently completed at the Greenstone Shopping Centre in Johannesburg,” Zinn reveals.

Skyriders partners regularly with Riggers Steeplejacks (Pty) Ltd., which specialises in temporary and permanent access systems for any structure, be it suspended platforms, rope access, or a combination. “Between us, we tend to engage with architects in the design phase, not necessarily to steer the design process itself, but to offset practical advice,” Zinn highlights. “For example, if a sloping façade is an architectural feature, we consider the best way to access it in order to clean the glass panels. However, such upfront involvement is generally the exception rather than the norm.”

skyriders-plumbs-the-depths-and-scales-the-heights-for-its-clients

A broad market focus means rope access technicians need to be qualified in trade skills

In terms of the latest developments at Skyriders, it has introduced Elios drone technology from Switzerland. “This allows us to carry out difficult or high-risk inspections, based on timing, efficiency, and safety initiatives mandated by specific industries. Autonomous access is definitely the way forward. However, it is important to note that drones can currently only identify problems, whereafter rope access and other services come into play to carry out the requisite follow-up investigation, inspection, maintenance, and repairs,” Zinn stresses.

Current challenges include the fact that the rope-access and work-at-height industry is plagued by the fly-by-night brigade, Zinn warns. “This often lacks the necessary equipment or inspection records. While these may be cheaper and more readily available options, the dire consequences of any fatality or injury incurred on-site can be crippling to a contractor. Due to the high health and safety risks involved, and the level of expertise required, it is critical that contractors only use certified service providers such as Skyriders, which are accredited with the Institute for Work at Height (IWH),” Zinn concludes.

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