A long story short about Industrial Rope Access

Taking a walk in the city, it is not uncommon to see abseilers hanging from the top of buildings. Looking up and around, we can probably spot someone working above us. 

It is everywhere, not surprisingly. Rope Access is a safe, cheap, and easy method to work at heights. But it was not always like that. Our ancestors had a lot of work and injuries before we could make this practice safe. To understand better this process lets go back in time a few ages.

“50,000-year-old string found at France Neanderthal site”

We were using ropes techniques during the prehistorical age. Scientists had found ropes fragments from 50.000BC.

The first ropes were made of grasses and vines, twisted by hand. It provided a helpful tool to move rocks and logs.

These fellas were probably the first rope access technicians of our civilization. Their practice shaped us. 

ropes in the pyramids

Along with our history, many advances were made possible by ropes and their workers.

One of the most notable events was the construction of the pyramids by the Egyptians roughly 2500BC.

Still subject of study, the construction of the pyramids has many theories. But one thing is for sure, the use of ropes had a decisive role in it.

Railroads and The Steel Industry

…And what does it have to do with ropes?

After the construction of the pyramids, going through the ages, we could also point out many impressive structures and tasks realized with the help of a rope system. Humans had developed new ropes, methods, and gear. But let us go forward, from 4500BC to the middle of the nineteenth century, to the popularization of the steel.

The mass production of steel started around 1860s.

The iron industry was in decline, all together to the high demand caused by the railroad expansion, the steel came to the scene has its substitute. Steel price went down, and we started using it more than we never had used it before.

Steel made possible the construction of new structures. Our kind had always challenged the skies, building high structures. But after the steel industry, the challenge went through a new level. (2)

“As steel is stronger and lighter in weight than iron, the use of a steel frame made possible the construction of truly tall buildings.”

Altogether with the second industrial revolution and the expansion of our society, a quite common building to us arose. The skyscraper. (3)

10, 40…50 stories high! Men started building up massively. Along with that, those structures needed maintenance, a new demand for services surged.

During the 1870s up to 1940s, we had a massive increase in the working at heights sector.

Unfortunately for those workers, the practice was still premature, and the equipment used was very rudimentary.

Also, the importance of regulations and proper training was a non-existent concept. They had a high rate of accidents, and very often, they were fatal. (4) (5)

“During the incredible building boom of early 20th century, it was said that crew foremen could expect one man to die for every $1million spent on a skyscraper.”

The evolution of a method

With the third industrial revolution, in the 1950s and the development of the manufacturing and engineering process of materials, we saw the quality of our gear improved.

Skyscrapers and high structures turned the landscape of our cities, as well as mines and inaccessible facilities took portion in our countryside.

Mountaineering and caving had also a determinant impact in the evolution of rope techniques.

The similar method used to abseil from a mountain could work on a skyscraper. Climbers adapted their methods for industrial use.

Our industry stopped rolling the dice with the worker’s life.

Irata’s foundation

Industrial rope access as we know today just started to get a proper name for itself after the 1980s.

By that time, associations got found. Training centres started working. And Regulations were published.

One of those associations is the IRATA, Industrial Rope Access Trade Association. It is still playing a central role in the development of rope access. (6)


Rope access today

From the 80s up today, Industrial rope access solidified its identity. Differently from back then, when technicians had to adapt mountaineering gear for industrial use, now we have a specific line of equipment, specially designed for industrial rope access.

As a result of ages of evolution, rope access now can show an excellent safety report.

Unfortunately, all the years were not enough to teach us the lesson.

It is still possible to see workers, without any proper qualification, dangerously working at heights. They cause personal damage, not just for themselves, but also for the others around.

What we believe

We, from Rope1, believe that everyone involved with rope access activities have a parcel of responsibility in this industry, from technicians to facility managers.

We all must assure that all the tasks comply with the safety regulations.

For that, those who hire must opt for certified technicians to work. And those who want to get in this industry shall have the proper training and knowledge.

We must keep evolving and making this profession even safer.


  1. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-52267383
  2. https://worldwiderails.com/how-did-railroads-help-the-steel-industry/
  3. https://www.britannica.com/technology/skyscraper
  4. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2920453/Laughing-face-death-Incredible-pictures-construction-workers-fooling-built-America-s-iconic-buildings.html
  5. https://todayinlaborhistory.wordpress.com/2015/07/11/july-11-1936/
  6. https://irata.org/

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