2011 SPRAT Conference

by Mike Gilbert

The Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians (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 US, Canada, Mexico, 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.

This year’s SPRAT Conference was held the second week of January in Vancouver, British Columbia. The annual conference is a two-day affair.

The first day is given over to SPRAT business, with committee meetings and reports. I participated in the Certification Requirements Document Committee, and the Safe Practices Document Committee meetings.

I took on the task of performing an editorial review of the two documents. I will be looking mostly for inconsistencies in nomenclature, but I’ll also keep an eye out for other editorial or substantive violations of parallel construction. The Safe Practices document informs the Certification document, and the Certification document implements the Safe Practices, so the two need to stand in complete agreement. Since they are overseen by separate committees, and adopted in separate ballot initiatives, they do not always reflect each other as accurately as we would wish.

The second day of the conference consists primarily of technical presentations by SPRAT members. Nine presentations covered a wide range of topics, ranging from a review of OSHA’s proposed changes to the regulations governing fall protection in general industry, to a humorous look at the characteristics desirable in the “perfect rope access technician”. There were two project case studies, a presentation on leadership in management, three presentations focused on rope access equipment, and an evaluation of rope access in the U.S. regulatory framework.

Prior to the conference I participated in a two-day SPRAT Evaluator Workshop. SPRAT’s primary substantive function in the rope access industry is providing third party evaluation and certification of rope access technicians. SPRAT evaluators implement the certification program by testing the technical knowledge and proficiency of rope access technicians, and awarding certification to successful candidates.

SPRAT recognizes three levels of rope access competency. Level I workers represent the entry level of skill proficiency and responsibility, and are required to work under direct supervision by technicians holding a higher certification. Level II technicians demonstrate a deeper grasp of rope access techniques, and have the additional responsibility of implementing rope rigging, overseeing Level I workers, and performing more advanced maneuvers and rescues. Level III technicians are rope access supervisors, responsible for overall job site planning and implementation.

I was certified as a SPRAT evaluator last spring, and attending the workshop in Vancouver was a good opportunity to learn from a strong group of experienced evaluators. Workshop participation is required of evaluator candidates, and periodically, for current evaluators. The goal (and the principle challenge) for all evaluators, is to provide a consistent process to every candidate participating in the SPRAT certification process. In the last couple of years the evaluator pool has grown from a dozen long-serving individuals, to include a total of thirty evaluators, representing the U.S, Canada, Mexico, Denmark and Sweden. It is an ongoing challenge to maintain consistency among this expanding and disparate group. I was impressed at the willingness and ability of the workshop participants to attain consensus on a range of challenging issues.

I was much less impressed with Vancouver’s winter weather; although it did afford me the rare opportunity to return home and say to my wife “It sure is nice to be back to Ithaca weather”. Come to think of it, I’ve never said that before…..