New roof completed

Our new roof was finally completed last week, so no random drips any more! We’ve also had more skylights fitted on the west elevation meaning more natural light.


Below you can see the building in its original form – with half the roof being glass. It must have been lovely and bright but I suspect a bit hot for hauling exercises in summer! As you can see, as well as being used as a drill hall, the building was also used to host formal dinners for the regiment. At one time it was even used to stage a circus complete with performing seals and ‘highly educated elephants’!

Drill Hall photo
The Drill Hall, Edmund Road, Sheffield



New ASAP & ASAP Lock – preview

Petzl’s update of the ASAP has been split into two versions – the ASAP, a smaller, neater version of the original, and the ASAP Lock, a lcoking version more suitable for rope access.

Full details in the video below:

ASAP – ASAP LOCK [EN] Mobile fall arrester for rope from Petzl professional on Vimeo.

Sadly the ASAP lock won’t be out ’til April 2014, but it certainly looks like it could be the most versatile device we’ve seen so far.

Access Techniques Duck_R

Safetec Duck R – the new Shunt?

Last month we finally took the long-awaited step of binning all our Shunts – at last their day is done. We’re shedding no tears. A big factor in this decision was the arrival of a delivery of the Safetec Duck R – aka ‘the stainless-steel Brazilian half-a-shunt’.

Safetec looked at the back-up problem a few years ago, decided they didn’t like the alternatives, so made their own version of the device they liked best. The first version of the Duck was almost an exact copy of the Shunt – just for one rope. But the new version – the Duck R (‘R’ for rescue) – has been re-engineered to solve many of the Shunt’s problems whilst offering a familiar user experience. Crucially it has also passed the European back-up device standard – EN 12841 A – and comes with a full set of instructions for rope access use.

The Duck Mk 1 - half a shunt!
The Duck Mk 1 – half a shunt!

Made of stainless steel, the device can be used on a cow’s tail and is much stronger than the original device (a major failing of the Shunt was its weak body which, if prevented from sliding, would simply pop off the rope at loads as low as 4kN). The cam face and geometry has also been redesigned so the device slips at higher loads (though still well below the EN standard 6kN limit), meaning less slippage in a fall, reduced clearance distances and making it much more suitable for two-person rescue loads.

Petzl Shunt
Petzl Shunt

Unlike the Shunt, the Duck R comes factory fitted with a sewn cord for towing. At 4mm thick and 40mm long this has been designed to be just big enough to get a decent grip for towing whilst maximising the chance of release in an emergency. S’tec do not recommend that the device is routinely continuously towed in descent, but allow that it may need to be for short distances – such as hopping out to clear an overhang or window. In common with other manually-positioned devices it has the problem that the device will not engage if the towing cord is not released, or the device, or rope above the device, is grabbed. These remain significant issues but, with the correct training and supervision, IRATA’s safety record suggests they can be overcome. On the other hand the Duck will require significantly less cross-over training than, say, an ASAP.

In terms of reviewing the device there isn’t much to say – in normal use it performs like a Shunt, and anyone familiar with the Shunt will feel at home right away. The cord is a little shorter than most will be used to, but seems a fair compromise given the need to release. Without running a series of drop tests its hard to say much more. What would be great is if IRATA, or a similar body, conduct a thorough range of independent tests so we have a better idea of how all the devices perform in different situations.

So is this the device to replace all back-ups? I don’t think so – but it is a very usable choice. Happily we are now (finally!) at a point where we have a range of good, purpose-built, type-approved devices from which to choose. With the forthcoming release of the DMM Catch this summer (we have a prototype available for techs to evaluate), and the recent rumours of Petzl’s new device (supposedly a smaller ASAP with a positioning catch) the choice will be even better. I doubt we will ever see a device that beats all others in all situations, but what we do have is a selection of solid-performing devices that we can choose to suit the situation.

At present, my choice of device depends on the users and the type of job. Accident statistics concerning back-ups are still fairly thin on the ground and it can be hard to decide whether protection against working line failure is more important than protection against losing control of a descender, or whether clearance distance is a bigger issue than impact force.

For inexperienced users, and jobs that require constant movement, a fall-arrest device like the ASAP will probably be the best choice. For more experienced tech, performing tasks where much of the work is spent stationary on the ropes, or close to structure with which they could collide in a fall, a device like the Duck that can be placed high and out of the way may be a better choice. During training we have a range of devices available – the ASAP and Duck being the most used at present – and explain when and where which is more appropriate.

If you want to check one out feel free to drop in if you are passing – the coffee machine is always on!

Duck’s are available to buy online in our shop here –  £75 plus VAT Discounts available on multiple orders

Further reading:

Rat trap magazine: Clucking Shunts, the search for the back-up holy grail (lots of background info)

HSE Report on rope access PPE: CRR 364/2001 (original research that identified Shunt performance issues)


BBC rope access advice

Nice little film from the BBC on planning rope access jobs. Nice to see they have all the same considerations as those of us doing more mundane work, and good to see a few friends and colleagues popping up there.

BBC Academy – tips for working with ropes

If you are looking for rigging expertise or safety supervision for filming, or for rope access trained cameramen, please get in touch. We have a vast amount of experience in-house and have close links with a few of the industry’s best climbing cameramen.

Dates for Winter

We’re taking a few weeks off over the winter break, so the last course before Christmas will be next week: 10th – 14th December.

Training starts again in the new year, with the first course running from the 7th – 11th January. After that we’ll be back to running courses every week.

We can accommodate all levels on any course, so to book a place give us a bell on 0114 2737398.

FAQ: Helmets for rope access

One issue that crops up regularly on our courses is helmets – techs are confused over which is the correct EN standard for helmets, how they differ from standard site helmets, and whether mountaineering helmets can be used at work. While the short answer is simple – just use a Petzl Vertex or Alveo ‘Best’, it can be a tricky one to explain to enthusiastic safety officers on site, so we thought we’d add some info for folks to refer back to.

Which is the correct EN standard for work at height helmets?

Unlike most of our equipment nowadays, currently there is no standard for specialist helmets for rope access.

Why can’t I just use a standard site helmet?

The standard for normal site helmets is EN 397 ‘Industrial Safety Helmets’. Unfortunately for our purposes this standard has a few problems. Firstly, EN 397 actually requires that any chinstrap must release at a fairly low load – the opposite of what we want to happen in a fall. Secondly, the impact tests required by EN 397 are pretty tame, with the test loads dropping from the height of one metre, and the helmets are only tested on the centre of their shell (this is the reason many cheap site helmets have a moulded central ridge. Get hit on the side and you’re likely knackered!). The standard also requires the shell is continuous to provide electrical insulation and (optionally) protection against molten metal splash – so no ventilation holes. Beware especially Petzl ‘ST’ helmets which look like typical rope access lids, but conform fully to EN 397’s weak chinstrap requirements, making them unsuitable for work at height.

What about climbing hemets?

The EN standard for mountaineering helmets – En 12492 – actually answers a lot of our problems. It requires a chinstrap that will keep the helmet on our head during a fall (but will release before strangling you), and impact tests from greater heights (2m), and on more places on the shell, including on the sides. However most mountaineering helmets have ventilation holes which means they cannot provide electrical insulation. Thankfully Petzl produce a couple of helmets – the ‘Best’ versions of which combine the most useful elements of each standard, making it an ideal helmet for rope access although no longer fully compliant to either standard.
Many mountaineering helmets nowadays are also more like a cycling helmet – more foam than shell – making them less durable and more suitable for protecting your head in a fall rather than against falling objects. Most of the time that shouldn’t be the priority at work, but its up to you to do a risk assessment and determine which is going to be most suitable for the task in hand.

I’ve got an old Petzl Ecrin Best that’s really comfortable. Can I still use it?

The old Ecrin Best was much loved by many, especially when Petzl replaced it with the wobbly and not very comfortable Vertex. Petzl’s lifespan advice for helmets is a maximum of ten years – and if its been used daily, out in the sun, it should probably be retired well before. Used solely indoors you might justify stretching a couple more years, but realistically most of the helmets are now on their last legs. Thankfully Petzl’s latest helmet – the Alveo – is a big improvement on the Vertex, being lighter, lower profile and much more stable on the head. Well worth a look.

ATL now running courses every week – lots more dates for summer 2012

Due to consistent demand, we’re now running courses every week, bar the odd public holiday (Easter, Christmas etc). Courses have been filling up fast recently so try not to leave it to the last minute to book!

Dates for Summer 2012 below:

18th – 22nd June
25th – 29th June
2nd – 6th July
9th – 13th July
16th – 20th July
23rd – 27th July
30th July – 3rd August
6th – 10th August
13th – 17th August
20th – 24th August
– August Bank Holiday –
3rd – 7th September
10th – 14th September
17th – 21st September
24th – 28th Spetember

Please get in touch for any dates beyond these.