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What Is Facilitated Access?

We’ve all heard the expression “you had to be there”.  There is something to be said for first-hand experience, and in the world of mountainous work sites, that is where facilitated access comes in. Facilitated access combines multiple fields – rope access, confined space access, and skilled trades – and seamlessly combines them for a variety of industries. It permits untrained or inexperienced people to reach otherwise inaccessible, challenging work locations. Capitalizing on the expertise of professional rope access technicians and mountain guides, facilitated access makes it possible for someone skilled in their own field – for example, a specialized engineer – to assess or conduct their work at a difficult site. What makes a site “difficult” can be anything from a high-angle, high-altitude location to a confined space.

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Speaking with Ben Firth, co-founder of Global Mountain Solutions (GMS), he explains that facilitated access fills an important gap in the suite of services offered by mountain safety organizations such as GMS. While “typical” rope access relies on a single technician conducting both the trade or other work (pipefitting, welding, etc.) while also safely manipulating their rope system, facilitated access leaves the ropes and rigging to a professional guide and the work itself with the second individual. The setup is one of direct supervision, in which the two individuals are in direct contact. There is some basic training given to the unskilled individual, to ensure they can manage their equipment and respond appropriately while on site, but otherwise the rope access technician oversees the access component of the job.

To break it down even further, facilitated access is best understood by grasping both rope access and confined spaces. Rope access uses a two-rope system in which a worker is lowered into a location at height. It replaces traditional methods of access, such as scaffolding or man-lifts. Because of stringent safety regulations, rope access has some of the most impressive safety statistics in the industry. It also offers companies an extremely cost-effective method with few extraneous equipment needs to work on site. That being said, rope access requires extensive training; facilitated access offers the cost savings and speed of using ropes without requiring the person conducting work to have that same high level of skill and aptitude at navigation on ropes. Confined spaces have limited room for manoeuvring and present challenges for access and exit. Caves, pipes, vats, and tanks that require maintenance and repair all represent confined spaces that a worker may need to access. Again, facilitated access provides a highly skilled guide to support a tradesperson or specialist worker in accessing the necessary areas to conduct work.

As someone that has decades of mountain experience, both in a professional capacity as well as recreationally, it’s clear that Ben and his GMS team have the expertise to fill this emerging market in the mountain safety and access industry. Ben easily lists off numerous examples of the types of facilitated access that he’s seen implemented in various natural environments. A geologist that may need to access the middle of a cliff for a sample, an engineer that needs to check a foundation halfway down a steep slope, or certain types of work on power line or cell line towers all may benefit from facilitated access.

When performed safely and appropriately – as the highly regulated rope access industry always should be – facilitated access represents an ideal way to expand the scope of mountain access. By filling the need of delivering skilled workers to potentially high-risk work sites, without compromising their safety or requiring extensive training, facilitated access manages those risks and opens up opportunities for a wide range of industries. Operationally speaking, facilitated access is a cost-effective solution that even speeds production. It’s easy to see why the industry continues to expand and gain attention, and will continue to create new opportunities moving forward.

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