ROPE ACCESS IN ACTION ! “The signature Woodwards 43 tower” The Cleaning Of An Historic Giant!
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ROPE ACCESS IN ACTION ! “The signature Woodwards 43 tower” The Cleaning Of An Historic Giant!

In the past week, ServiceMaster Clean Vancouver has been cleaning the Iconic Woodwards Building in the downtown core. While this is a phenomenal opportunity, it also presents quite a few technical challenges for our technicians. First, the building incorporates a number of different architectural styles, which emulates its different history. However many of its features vastly increase the difficulty of cleaning the building. It is really a fantastic example of the advantages of rope access system employed by ServiceMaster Clean.

Here, a technician wears a safety harness that is connected to a rope via a mechanical descender. While this may seem more risky, rope access is much safer than other systems. It is also more efficient: technicians can move up and down, have more ability to move side to side than any other method. It is the preferred method to clean very high-rise buildings outside North America, such as the world’s tallest building, the Burj Kalifa in Dubai.

The signature Woodwards 43 tower exemplifies the advantages of the rope access system. It has large cornices (the lip at the top of the building), which limits a lot of the options for cleaning. For example the Bosun chair cannot be used with this feature, because they cannot get under the overhang.


But, as you can see in this photo, our technicians are able to re-route their lines under the cornice, which brings them much closer to the building. This represents perhaps the biggest disadvantage of Bosun chairs: they are really only a descent system, with very limited mobility options for a suspended worker. Individuals cannot attach themselves to different lines, go up, or even conduct a self-rescue, if part of their equipment fails. Another example of chair’s limitations is the presence of large exterior metal girders on each floor of the W43 tower.



Since these are not balconies and there is no place to latch onto, the girders all but rules out the chair as a viable cleaning method. Rope’s flexibility allows workers to latch onto different ropes in order to provide a safe, effective work environment at height, as this before and after photo makes clear.


In January Worksafe BC introduced a series of new regulations for rope access work, that required all technicians and supervisors to have specific levels of training appropriate to their role. This will mean that some companies will need to invest in training to bring their staff up to the minimum standards, and will result in some higher costs being passed along to the customer. This is not the case with ServiceMaster Clean Vancouver, as we are already broadly compliant with the regulations. All of our rope access technicians were required to obtain a recognized rope access qualification before they took their first step off of a building; we considered this a matter of basic safety.

Bosun Chairs did not face any new regulations. This was not because the method is superior to rope access; rather it is because it is less. Workplace BC acknowledges that chairs cannot be used in a wide variety of situations, so its current regulations are sufficient for its limited use. Even so, unless a tower is an unremarkable box, Bosun Chairs are slower, and more cumbersome to use than rope access. The only difference is that the training standards are far lower, so the labor costs are lower.

So when you’re considering exterior cleaning of high-rise towers, it is really important to understand these considerations and make your decision accordingly.

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