x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Window cleaners show off skills at Dubai Rope Access Olympics

Three-man teams from five UAE companies participate in the first Middle East Rope Access Olympics at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Teams of window washers, oil rig workers and bridge workers go head to head to make it to the top at the Rope Access Olympics in Dubai.
Teams of window washers, oil rig workers and bridge workers go head to head to make it to the top at the Rope Access Olympics in Dubai.

DUBAI // The daredevil maintenance men who can be seen on the end of ropes cleaning windows on landmarks such as the Burj Khalifa and the Burj Al Arab demonstrated their skills yesterday.

Three-man teams from five UAE companies took part in the first Middle East Rope Access Olympics at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre.

The workers, also including oil-rig and bridge-maintenance hands, took part in five challenges, dashing up and down a specially built frame wearing harnesses, hard hats and safety gear.

Similar events have been held in other countries.

Rope access is used when other ways of accessing the outside of tall buildings, such as cherrypickers or scaffolding, are impractical or too expensive.

The industry has expanded greatly in the past few years as a result of the country's building boom.

"In Dubai five years ago there were two rope-access companies," said Dan Moyle, training manager of Traks, which teaches rope access and organised the competition. "Now you've got about two dozen doing rope access professionally.

"The architects in Dubai and the rest of the Middle East have given us such unusual structures that the only way to do facilities management or clean them or paint them, or do anything on them, is rope access.

"When many of the towers were built, people were looking at aesthetics and not functionality. You have cradle systems but the thing is that sometimes the building's shape is so exotic that you can't reach every corner with them."

Mervin Sales, the senior member of the Megarme team, said a highlight of his career was climbing to the top of the Burj Khalifa to attach the fireworks for the spectacular opening ceremony of the world's tallest building.

"It's a beautiful view," Mr Sales said. "I saw the whole of Dubai. I've also worked at the Capital Gate building in Abu Dhabi, and I work offshore on oil rigs, painting and blasting off rust.

"I've been doing this for five years. At first I was scared of heights, but doing this kind of rope access for me now is nothing because I have more experience.

"We have two ropes, the working line and the backup. If the working line breaks you have the other one, so it's safe. But my line has never broken."

Amel Vriesman, head of rope access at Megarme, said: "We're currently doing a full inspection survey and maintenance programme on the Burj Al Arab.

"We're making sure the building is still in good condition, so we do a visual inspection of the cladding, insulation and the structural steel.

"Our findings are forwarded to the maintenance department with proposals to make sure the building stays in good condition.

"We do a lot of projects in Abu Dhabi and we also do a lot in the offshore field. We have 400 guys on ropes every day."

The contest was won by a team from MBM, with Megarme second. Also taking part were Gecko, Spider Access and EIL.

csimpson@thenational.ae