Like climbing? Why not work in commercial rope access?


Original Post
20 kN · · Hawaii · Joined Feb 2009 · Points: 1,348

For those who love climbing but wont ever be good enough to get a full time paid gig, maybe consider rope access. What's rope access? It more or less means climbing, rappelling or ascending to access parts of structures that cannot be accessed using conventional methods. The most common structures are buildings, bridges, windmills and antennas. While rappelling down giant buildings all day isint exactly rock climbing, it certainly has its perks.

Plus you get the joy of coiling up several thousand feet of tangled 11mm static rope at the end of the day and I dont know any climber who doesent live for doing that. Even more fun is when you have to pull up that several thousand feet of 11mm up and off the side of the building. I used to think 60m of 10.5mm was heavy. I had no idea what heavy was until the day I had to pull up 975' of 11mm static.  

IcePick · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2017 · Points: 100

SIGN ME UP.  Wait.  I'm afraid of heights 

T Bloodstone · · Minneapolis, MN · Joined Nov 2013 · Points: 40

Where do I sign up?  

James T · · Livermore · Joined Jul 2015 · Points: 80

Thanks for sharing! 

A while back some guy posted here looking for climbers for wind turbine rope access work. I already have a job but live right next to one of the largest concentrations of turbines in the world (Altamont) and asked him if there was any work needed there, but alas there wasn't. I would totally jump at that opportunity if it came to town. 

Ryan Hamilton · · Orem · Joined Aug 2011 · Points: 20

I'm often envious of the window washers hanging outside my office window. I know its a much lower paying gig, but I would gladly trade them for the day. 

Daniel T · · Riverside, Ca · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 35

If I knew I could get a job right away I would totally sign up for rope access school.  Sitting at a computer 6 hours a day and being in a factory another 4hrs a day get boring really quickly.

John Greer Jr. · · modesto, ca · Joined Jun 2009 · Points: 95

This kind of stuff has always interested me.

20 kN what company do you work for?

Can you recommend some resources for interested folks to learn more?

eli poss · · Durango, Co · Joined May 2014 · Points: 456

But don't you have to have other skills than just being a climber? My understand is that rope access is only a way to access a job, not the actual job itself.

Jake Jones · · Richmond, VA · Joined Jul 2011 · Points: 1,435
eli poss wrote:

But don't you have to have other skills than just being a climber? My understand is that rope access is only a way to access a job, not the actual job itself.

Need a strong trigger finger for Windex bottles.  You go through a lot of them.

Fritz N. · · Durango, CO · Joined Mar 2012 · Points: 110

So 20KN, what's your average workday like, aside from getting a burly static coil workout?

Dan Barry · · Rock Springs, WY · Joined Jun 2016 · Points: 0

I see a lot of places require some previous experience to be considered for a job. Any insight on where to look for entry level work in this field? 

Daniel T · · Riverside, Ca · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 35
Dan Barry wrote:

I see a lot of places require some previous experience to be considered for a job. Any insight on where to look for entry level work in this field? 

welcome to the 2017 job market.

caesar.salad · · earth · Joined Dec 2012 · Points: 85
Dan Barry wrote:

I see a lot of places require some previous experience to be considered for a job. Any insight on where to look for entry level work in this field? 

this

20 kN · · Hawaii · Joined Feb 2009 · Points: 1,348
eli poss wrote:

But don't you have to have other skills than just being a climber? My understand is that rope access is only a way to access a job, not the actual job itself.

Depends on the work you do, but yes, rope access is the vehicle not the job itself. Many level ones start out washing windows as you get a ton of on-rope experience and thus can progress through the rope access certification levels fairly fast if you're working full time. NDT is a good option in that it pays fairly well, you do need some schooling for it but the school is not that long. Most construction jobs have a rope access equivalent. Glazers, window washers (union work) and glass installers, welders, pipe fitters, general laborers and inspectors—all of those trades have rope access positions. Oil platforms have a lot of rope access work and often pay quite well, but the job is demanding, risky and you're away from home a lot.

Outside building rope access work you have windmills. NDT can help you there as windmills are inspected somewhat often, but also just having basic mechanical skills can be sufficient to get a rope access job on a windmill. Windmills require maintenance and much of that maintenance can be taught OJT. The last section of rope access would be tower work. Towers next to the ocean require a lot of maintenance (big surprise), and so that creates demand for climbers. Most of the tower work around my parts is maintenance, inspection and repair, but there is some tower construction rope access work going on as well.

Really, there are many jobs in rope access that do require specialized trade skills, but realistically most of what's done in the air is also done on the ground and the equivalent positions on the ground can often be taught OJT. Thus, if you get your SPRAT or IRATA certification and you actually put an effort into getting a job, you shoudlent have a problem finding one. Rope access as a whole is expanding and I always see random rope access jobs pop up. You might have to start out with a lower paying position, but once you’re in the industry you can make connections and work your way up, same as with any other field.

If “rope access” is the job you want and you do not care what trade you’re doing, as long as you’re on rope, then the best way to start out would be get your SPRAT or IRATA level one certification. Then get a basic rope access job and start racking up your hour and work your way to level III. I’d try to gun for the windmill rope access jobs if you can. They are not as complex and involved or as exposed/ tall as window washing rope access jobs, but working on windmills are cool and the pay is usually better. Another option is tower work which also is not as involved or complex as window washing rope access, but it’s also a good start.

Fritz N. wrote:

So 20KN, what's your average workday like, aside from getting a burly static coil workout?

I do a very wide range of work. Things ranging from rope access instruction to OSHA compliance (e.g. writing company policy on rope access use) to specialty work (e.g. inspection, window repair/ sealing) to window washing to tower climbing and several things in-between. I also do international work and fly to overseas locations to create rope access solutions for specific challenges for clients. Often it involves establishing and deploying a rope access program for a specific obstacle, training the employees of the client as needed, then managing the safety aspect of the work site as the work commences (or until I leave).

Dan Barry wrote:

I see a lot of places require some previous experience to be considered for a job. Any insight on where to look for entry level work in this field? 

Window washing companies, tower work and windmill techs. Where I live there are several companies looking for people and experience used to be a requirement to apply but now some of the companies are waving that requirement if you're solid on ropes because the demand is growing.

eli poss · · Durango, Co · Joined May 2014 · Points: 456
20 kN wrote:

Depends on the work you do, but yes, rope access is the vehicle not the job itself. Many level ones start out washing windows as you get a ton of on-rope experience and thus can progress through the rope access certification levels fairly fast if you're working full time. NDT is a good option in that it pays fairly well, you do need some schooling for it but the school is not that long. Most construction jobs have a rope access equivalent. Glazers, window washers (union work) and glass installers, welders, pipe fitters, general laborers and inspectors—all of those trades have rope access positions. Oil platforms have a lot of rope access work and often pay quite well, but the job is demanding, risky and you're away from home a lot.

Outside building rope access work you have windmills. NDT can help you there as windmills are inspected somewhat often, but also just having basic mechanical skills can be sufficient to get a rope access job on a windmill. Windmills require maintenance and much of that maintenance can be taught OJT. The last section of rope access would be tower work. Towers next to the ocean require a lot of maintenance (big surprise), and so that creates demand for climbers. Most of the tower work around my parts is maintenance, inspection and repair, but there is some tower construction rope access work going on as well.

Really, there are many jobs in rope access that do require specialized trade skills, but realistically most of what's done in the air is also done on the ground and the equivalent positions on the ground can often be taught OJT. Thus, if you get your SPRAT or IRATA certification and you actually put an effort into getting a job, you shoudlent have a problem finding one. Rope access as a whole is expanding and I always see random rope access jobs pop up. You might have to start out with a lower paying position, but once you’re in the industry you can make connections and work your way up, same as with any other field.

If “rope access” is the job you want and you do not care what trade you’re doing, as long as you’re on rope, then the best way to start out would be get your SPRAT or IRATA level one certification. Then get a basic rope access job and start racking up your hour and work your way to level III. I’d try to gun for the windmill rope access jobs if you can. They are not as complex and involved or as exposed/ tall as window washing rope access jobs, but working on windmills are cool and the pay is usually better. Another option is tower work which also is not as involved or complex as window washing rope access, but it’s also a good start.

Sorry, but I'm not super familiar with most of the acronyms used here. What does NDT and OJT mean? I'm pretty sure SPRAT and IRATA are certifications for rope access workers, right?

I don't really know any trades, nor do I plans for learning them. Does this mean that I would be limited to window washing if I chose to pursue a rope access career? What kind of work and/or trade is done on windmills and tower work?

JaredG · · Tucson, AZ · Joined Aug 2011 · Points: 0

seems like you should put those things on spools.  maybe with a winch

20 kN · · Hawaii · Joined Feb 2009 · Points: 1,348
eli poss wrote:

Sorry, but I'm not super familiar with most of the acronyms used here. What does NDT and OJT mean? I'm pretty sure SPRAT and IRATA are certifications for rope access workers, right?

I don't really know any trades, nor do I plans for learning them. Does this mean that I would be limited to window washing if I chose to pursue a rope access career? What kind of work and/or trade is done on windmills and tower work?

Non-destructive testing. Using specialized equipment to inspect the integrity of structures. OJT = On the job training. Windmill work will be maintenance and inspection. Windmills have gearboxes and stuff that require changing gear oil and all sorts of general maintenance. Tower climbing will be either construction of the tower itself or maintenance, inspection and repair. Most rope access jobs are going to fit into one of two categories: construction or maintenance. You're either building or fixing something. That's 80% of the jobs. SPRAT and IRATA are the two rope access certification agencies. Sort of like the AMGA for rope access. The best thing to do is watch YouTube videos. There are tons of rope access videos for windmills and every other type of structure. Petzl has a few on their website.

If you do not want to learn a trade then you will be doing some type of maintenance on towers, buildings or something of the sort. Technically it's kind of hard to not learn a trade if you work with the same company for awhile. Window washing is a trade. There are window washer unions. Same with tower work. I dont know if there are windmill work unions, but there are windmill "levels." Like level III windmill field support technician and the sort. Just because you don’t go to a “trade school” doesent mean you wont learn a trade. Whatever you end up doing at your first rope access job is going to be your trade (at least for your tenure there). Some jobs you'll never get into without the schooling (like NDT) because that requires certifications and you just cant do the job without being certified. Others you might be able to learn OJT.

Another often overlooked rope access job is stage hand and stage rigging. The guys who install speakers indoors, lighting and other staging equipment. You might not be running down 600' tall buildings, but it's still rope access and some of those guys get reasonable pay. I know a few rope access techs in stage rigging who make $30 an hour after their first year.

highaltitudeflatulentexpulsion · · Colorado · Joined Oct 2012 · Points: 35

I spent a while doing this as a level 1. It was enough to convince me to go back to school.

My body was getting wrecked from lifting and hauling. I had to spend months away from home and there was only a day or two between jobs. I was almost always too tired to do anything on my days off. My coworkers were mostly meth heads.

Once I quit, it took my body a few months to undo the damage the job did to me. 

I think being an instructor at a fixed location would be sweet. Actually working in the industry sucks.

JoshP · · Tennessee · Joined Dec 2012 · Points: 15

 "You might not be running down 600' tall buildings, but it's still rope access and some of those guys get reasonable pay. I know a few rope access techs in stage rigging who make $30 an hour after their first year."

The vast majority of production rigging for live entertainment that happens in arenas and other venues is not rope access. At least 90% of the time working as a rigger will have you standing on a beam with your pull rope (generally 5/8" polypropylene derby rope used to pull up loads). There are times where you'll need to dangle for various reasons and sometimes you can get lucky (or unlucky depending on your perspective) enough to rap (however, generally not with a 2 rope system). It is by far the most engaging and enjoyable work I have done. Not to mention all of the concerts you can see as a rigger : )

By and large all of the training you'll need to become a competent rigger will happen on the job. Lots of rigging crews hold themselves in high regard and that can pose a challenge to an outsider trying to get into the profession. The easiest way to get your foot in the door is to start as a stage hand with a company that also does rigging. Bust your ass for a while as a stage hand demonstrating that you are a better worker than the guy next to you and casually try to befriend a rigger and show him you know how to tie a bowline and a clove hitch. Success and happiness aren't guaranteed, but it is an experience you won't soon forget.

Thanks to the original poster, 20kN. I'm trying to make a gradual transition from production rigging to rope access work and your post answered some questions I've had lingering.

20 kN · · Hawaii · Joined Feb 2009 · Points: 1,348
highaltitudeflatulentexpulsion wrote:

I spent a while doing this as a level 1. It was enough to convince me to go back to school.

My body was getting wrecked from lifting and hauling. I had to spend months away from home and there was only a day or two between jobs. I was almost always too tired to do anything on my days off. My coworkers were mostly meth heads.

Once I quit, it took my body a few months to undo the damage the job did to me. 

I think being an instructor at a fixed location would be sweet. Actually working in the industry sucks.

Sounds like you got a crappy job then. I know plenty of guys who are out in the ocean surfing before many people even get off work. Many of the skilled and efficient guys are getting off around 1-2 PM and still collecting their 40 hours. I usually dont work past 4 PM and even that is considered working late. Not all trades get off work that early, it's going to be trade and company specific, but I'm pointing out that working for months at time and killing yourself is not standard practice for a rope tech with most companies.

T Bloodstone · · Minneapolis, MN · Joined Nov 2013 · Points: 40

Check this one out. They might still have openings for a Rigger Technician. They will train.

http://www.siouxfallstower.com/index.cfm/page/ptype=results/category_id=3/mode=cat/cat3.htm

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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