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Equipment used by a rope access technician can cost as much as RM10,000

The challenges that rope access technicians face daily are not for the faint-hearted as they are required to carry out maintenance and inspection suspended in mid-air for hours. But, it can be financially rewarding and seems to attract adventurous youngsters.

HOW often do you see people suspended in mid-air as they clean windows, paint walls or change light bulbs on high-rise buildings and wonder: “What does it take to scale skyscapers?”

Well, a lot of guts for a start.

The vertigo-inducing feat is not for the faint-hearted. It attracts mainly the younger generation who are drawn to its hair-raising challenges. Quite often, they make good money.

Those who want to enter the profession are required to undergo a five-day Industrial Rope Access Trade Association (Irata) course, which costs about RM3,000 to be certified as rope access technicians. 

Those with the certification are allowed to go to difficult-to-reach locations without the use of scaffolding, window cleaners’ cradles or aerial work platforms for commercial or offshore tasks.

In the commercial rope access sector, a certified individual is able to perform tasks such as window-cleaning, putting up signboards, changing light bulbs, drilling, welding and painting.

With regard to offshore opportunities, jobs are available in areas such as non-destructive testing (evaluating the properties of a material, component or system without causing damage), maritime surveys, video inspections, rigging and lifting, rescue standby services, welding and maintenance.

Freelance rope access technician Ali Imran Mansor Adabi,  who has a diploma in web designing, said he decided to choose a different career path as he found a desk job too sedentary.

“Most of us became rope access technicians because we love the outdoors and extreme activities, and dislike regimented desk jobs,” he said.

“Although I have the Irata certificate, it doesn’t mean that I can do all rope access jobs.

“I still need specific training for each job,” said the 22-year-old Kelantanese, who joined the rope access world this year.

With him were fellow freelance rope access technicians Aminnurasyid Rahman, 21; Syafiq Abdullah, 25; Mohd Nazlee Mohd Zamri, 25; and Mohd Faizal Samikon, 31. 

Faizal stressed the importance of following basic safety rules.

(From left) Mohd Nazlee Mohd Zamri, Ali Imran Mansor Adabi, Mohd Faizal Samikon and Aminnurasyid Rahman aim to scale the 163-floor Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Pix by Surianie Mohd Hanif

“I have not only my own safety to think about, but also that of my teammates and the public.

“The weather, building condition and our equipment determine our safety. We must use sound judgment and evaluate our surroundings for potential hazards.

“On a windy day, one can swing as much as 8m away in the air,” Faizal said, adding that the public could also cause accidents.

“Sometimes, when we work at residential buildings, angry occupants throw objects down at us for no reason,” said the Johorean who has eight years of experience under his belt.

Because of this, he added, not many rope access technicians were willing to take up commercial jobs.

 Aminnurasyid said clients engaged rope access technicians because they did their jobs efficiently and were able to access areas that were too small or narrow for scaffoldings to be used.

“We often have to use our creativity to accomplish a job, or use additional equipment. Because of this, the price quotation for the job may go up,” he said.

Aminnurasyid said a full set of equipment for a single technician could cost up to RM10,000.

Syafiq said the “anchoring stage” was the hardest part of the job.

“Working top to bottom, we need strong anchors to keep us safe on the ropes.

“However, some buildings do not have features to enable proper anchoring,” Aminnurasyid said, adding that sometimes they had to drive metal pins into building surfaces so that ropes could be attached to them.

However, building developers often refused to allow this, fearing that the facade could be compromised as water could collect in the holes. 

“We always have to be on our toes and find solutions to our problems,” he said.

 A buddy system is an additional safety feature of the job, as members of a team can focus on rescue efforts in the event of emergency and equipment failure.

With every 1,000 hours on the job, rope access technicians are elevated to the next level, with level three being the highest.

Ali said level three technicians were in high demand for commercial and offshore jobs around the world, and could also become trainers.

“In every job, there must be at least one level three technician,” he said.

Aminnurasyid Rahman says rope access technicians face competition from foreign workers.

Faizal said foreign workers with questionable rope access skills were favoured by some companies as they were cheaper to hire.

“Because of this, we have to bring down our quotations by large margins,” he said, adding that he had worked alongside foreign workers and saw that many of them did not take safety seriously.

Aminnurasyid said he hoped that more youths, especially those who love extreme sports, would consider taking up rope access as a career path.

“I used to be a mat rempit because I love the adrenaline rush. Now, I still get the rush but at least I am making a living out of it,” he said, adding that rope access could be a life-long career if one was serious about it.

Nazlee said his goal was to scale the 163-floor Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, an ambition shared by the other rope access technicians.

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