Mike Gilbert and Keith Luscinski traveled to Golden, Colorado this month to attend the 2012 conference for the Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians (SPRAT). SPRAT is an organization comprised of individuals, companies, and agencies that have a stake in the safe development of rope access standards and practices. Although SPRAT is based in the United States, its scope is international. Currently, SPRAT members hail from the USA, Canada, Mexico, South America, and Europe. The membership includes individual practitioners, companies that provide rope access services, training or equipment, and government agencies.
SPRAT supports rope access practitioners with certification programs, regulatory support, networking, and opportunities to participate in developing industry-consensus standards. The key elements of the conference took place on Thursday and Friday, January 12 and 13.
On Thursday afternoon, a meeting was held by the Standards Committee, which comprises all SPRAT members. The Standards Committee oversees the key subcommittees that maintain and promulgate the current SPRAT standards and formulate new standards. SPRAT has recently been seeing growth in new countries and industries, which was certainly evidenced by the committee’s attendance. Members were present from the USA, Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, and Turkey, as well as from the window cleaning, chimney repair and telecommunication sectors. Vertical Access, however, was one of only a few firms representing the East Coast.
An interesting new development by the Standards Committee is the introduction of a rope access company audit program. This effort is the purview of the Company Audit Subcommittee. Keith attended the subcommittee meeting Thursday afternoon.
Intended to be a voluntary process, the audit would add distinction to businesses that are fully SPRAT compliant. Currently, SPRAT certifies individual technicians but has no process for evaluations at the employer level. This year will likely see a handful of trial runs of the audit program, with a full implementation of the program within the next few years. Vertical Access is interested in this program, and will likely participate in the “beta testing”.
Friday was primarily given over to presentations by the SPRAT membership and interested outside parties and without a doubt, the hottest topic at the conference was Petzl’s presentation of its recent statement regarding the Shunt backup device. Used by the majority of industrial rope access technicians in the United States, the Shunt has been an inexpensive, lightweight and user-friendly fall-protection/backup device for over fifteen years.
Petzl’s recent statement addresses the hazard of an uncontrolled descent should the user either fail to let go of the Shunt or grab the Shunt in the event of a fall or working line failure. While this hazard has been acknowledged by Petzl and rope access practitioners for years, recent testing suggested the previous policy of allowing the Shunt to be used by trained technicians does not adequately mitigate the hazard.
The conclusion is that in spite of our best intentions, we cannot train panic. As part of the statement, Petzl advises against the use of the device for industrial rope access applications. Many industrial rope access companies are now searching for other backup devices that are “panic proof,” meaning that they will arrest a fall even if grabbed by the user.
While every occupation has its hazards, historical data shows an exceedingly low rate of major injuries to industrial rope access technicians. See statistics gathered by the Industrial Rope Access Trade Association.
SPRAT is reviewing its evaluation criteria in light of the previously ubiquitous use of the Shunt device. Vertical Access will begin using an alternative device, while we all await the development of the ideal backup device. Attention all inventors…..