x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 16 December 2017

World first for Abu Dhabi workers who walk on air - 228 metres above ground

A net developed for use on oil rigs has been deployed for workers at the Abu Dhabi Gate tower development.

Rope access experts from Megarme walk across a high tensile net, 228m above the ground at Abu Dhabi Gate Towers construction site on Reem Island.
Rope access experts from Megarme walk across a high tensile net, 228m above the ground at Abu Dhabi Gate Towers construction site on Reem Island.

ABU DHABI // Workmen at a skyscaper development in the capital are walking on sunshine thanks to an innovative net system that allows them to saunter between towers without ropes or scaffolding - 228 metres above ground.

The 1,800m net has been strung across a 30m gap between two of the towers that make up The Gate Towers development, making it the largest and highest installation of its kind.

"There's no office like it," said project manager Mickey Schram, one of the skywalkers who spends every working day on the net, which is accessed from the 64th floor. "I do get scared; if you don't then one becomes complacent. You need to have that fear in you, if you don't then there's a problem."

The net, made of a polyester cord mesh, is supported by steel cables anchored to the structure of the buildings. And, while conventional wisdom says you can avoid vertigo by not looking down, Mr Schram disagrees.

"I think you need to look down, because it gives you a sense of respect for the system you're dealing with and heightens your awareness of safety," he added. "So absolutely, I look down."

Mr Schram said he enjoyed a number of aspects of the job: "It's outdoors, and it's providing solutions. A client has a problem, you come up with a solution, and to see it pulled off successfully is what's most rewarding."

Another member of the team, Roger Gallenbo, said: "I like working on the net very much. It's fantastic and it's a nice feeling walking on it. I prefer it to working on the ropes - it's more exciting."

The nets were developed to cope with the tough conditions on North Sea oil rigs. Their use in the UAE is being pioneered by the Dubai-based rope access company Megarme, which fitted and operates the one that links Towers 3 and 4 at the Sorouh Real Estate development on Al Reem Island.

An advantage of the system is that it can be used by workers who are not trained in rope access techniques. At Gate Towers a subcontractor is fitting aluminium panels to the underside of the penthouse skybridge that connects three of the buildings. Megarme staff, meanwhile, are installing abseiling hooks that will be used by rope access personnel to clean and maintain the towers once they are complete.

A decking system is being used in conjunction with the net for the first time in the UAE to provide a stable working platform, which makes tasks like drilling easier.

When the work is complete the net will be moved to Towers 4 and 5 so that staff can work there. Megarme is working closely with Arabian Construction Company, the main contractor on the Gate Towers project, and Hill International, the consultant.

Amel Vriesman, Megarme's head of access solutions, said: "This is a unique project because of the combination of the size and the height and the fact that we're using a decking system for the first time.

"Everybody is really fond of the system. We installed it in 20 days where scaffolding would have taken eight weeks. You have to identify what is the best tool for a particular job, and this was by far the safest, the quickest and the most economical system available."

Operations manager Fred Marshall said: "The net works as a system: you load one end of it and the other end tightens up immediately, so the more people you have on it the better it works.

"If you stand on one end of a trampoline and somebody jumps on the other end then you bounce with it, and it's a similar type of effect with the netting system."

csimpson@thenational.ae