Ever wondered how billboards come to be high up on the sides of buildings when there are no windows in sight? Or have you wondered how skyscrapers get their windows cleaned when windows cannot be opened? Did I hear someone say Spiderman? Unfortunately, New York doesn’t have the budget to pay ‘Spidy’ for cleaning services, but nice try.
Yes, there is the option of assembling scaffolding or lowering what is known as a ‘cradle’ down from the roof in order to get to those hard-to-reach places on tall structures, but as easy as that sounds, these methods entail a lot of equipment and time setting up said equipment. Instead, there’s an easier way of getting to these inaccessible areas, and let’s face it, this way is much cooler as well.
Hang in there
Shawn Northey is a rope access technician who makes a living from just hanging around – literally. These technicians abseil down tall structures to get to areas otherwise unreachable, and perform a variety of duties. “The basic job includes the rigging of your ropes, and then abseiling into a position where a certain function needs to be done, for example: window washing, cleaning of silos, painting, installation or removal of signage, inspections, power washing or sand blasting.” This means that Shawn’s work takes him to different locations, making no two jobs the same. “We work anywhere where there are high or difficult to reach areas such as skyscrapers, factories, power stations, oil rigs, stadiums, bridges, ships and silos. The work is mostly outdoors, but also sometimes inside factories under difficult circumstances, like inside confined spaces such as boilers and silos,” Shawn explains.
This work does not follow your average nine-to-five office hours and can vary from job to job. “When on a project you’ll normally work about 8-10 hours per day, but if deadlines have to be met you can easily work around 12-15 hours per day, but you’ll be rewarded with overtime payment,” Shawn adds. “An average day will see you starting at about 07:00 and have the adrenaline pumping by 07:30. After you’ve rigged your ropes, done safety checks and risk assessments, you’ll abseil into position and do whatever is required by the client, and as said previously - this varies a lot,” he continues.
Roped into this work
got into this profession by turning something he loved doing into a career. “By chance, I was involved in the adventure tourism industry, and many of the technicians are keen rock climbers that have made their hobby their career,” he points out.
There are three levels of experience or qualifications in this line of work, namely Level 1, 2 and 3. Enrolling in a rope access course, which lasts around a week, will see you gaining your Level 1 and enabling you to start work immediately. “To become a Level 2 technician you’ll have to work a minimum of 750 hours and then do the Level 2 course,” Shawn points out. A further 1000 hours as a Level 2 technician will qualify you for the Level 3 course.
It’s no doubt that this job smells of danger pay and you wouldn’t be in the wrong if you thought the same.
Payment also varies per Level, where a Level 1 technician can earn anywhere between R300 and R500 per day, Level 2 between R600 and R900 per day and Level 3 between R1000 and R1500 per day, but it doesn’t stop there, oh no. International rates, like working on oil rigs, will see you earning anywhere between R1400 per day for a Level 1 technician and a staggering R3500 per day for Level 3.
Ups and downs… literally
The best part of Shawn’s work is the adrenaline rush of being suspended at a height and also being able to be in places that not many people get the opportunity to be in. “You sometimes have the most amazing views of cities hanging off the side of a building,” he adds.
The down side to Shawn’s work are the long periods spent away from home when travelling abroad or working on an off-shore oil rig.
Shawn has landed in his dream career and even started his own rope access company, which, unfortunately, sees him spending less time running up and down buildings and more time running his business.
“Sometimes, whilst washing windows, an old lady inside will feel sorry for you working in the sun and give you a cold drink and cookies, other times some younger girls will give you their number,” smiles Shawn, as he shares some comical moments of his career.
Published By: Liezl Maclean