Edinburgh, my home town, was an unsanitary, overcrowded place in the first half of the 1700s, with a jumble of narrow wynds and towering tenement buildings, the tenants of which emptied their chamber pots into the streets below! The person tossing the waste was supposed to call out ‘Gardez l’eau’, meaning ‘watch the water’, which became corrupted to ‘Gardyloo!’ All of this was somewhat before my time.

I was struck by the connection with the story of falling masonry as described below, with much more serious effects than being splashed!

In a recent article by Jarrett Huddleston, I found a new application that ties together the illustration from the Empire State Building to a new inspection requirement in New York City.
In 1980, after a piece of masonry fell from a building and killed a passerby, New York City passed Local Law 10/80, requiring periodic inspection of building façades and exteriors for all buildings taller than six storeys.

In 2018, more than 2635 buildings were inspected in New York City. Of this group, close to 20% were either deemed unsafe due to an existing hazard, or considered technically unsafe due to a failure to repair lesser conditions noted in a previous inspection. A full 44% of the properties inspected, almost 1200 buildings, were cited as ‘safe with a repair and maintenance programme’ (conditionally safe provided necessary repairs were completed).

The Façade Inspection Safety Program (FISP) requires that all qualifying buildings engage a licensed and registered Qualified Exterior Wall Inspector (QEWI) to examine the building façade, with a minimum of one hands-on inspection drop per representative area. The QEWI then prepares a report on the condition of the façade, which is reviewed and acknowledged by the owner and filed with the New York City Department of Buildings.

There are approximately 1,000,000 buildings in New York City. Some 14,500 of these are taller than six storeys and therefore require a façade inspection every five years.

Industrial rope access (IRA) offers a faster, more versatile and more cost-effective approach to building façade inspection. Rope access technicians can perform on all elevations of a building within the time frame required to rig and perform a single scaffold drop. Setbacks, projecting balconies, large cornices, peaked roofs and spires that represent impediments to suspended scaffolds are fully accessible using IRA.

Rope access is not only efficient, cost-effective and less invasive, but multiple drops provide more and better data, enabling stronger analysis that supports a more accurate repair scope of work, greatly reducing or eliminating the potential for cost overruns and change orders during repairs. IRA is also especially useful for historic buildings, as it is low impact, avoiding potential façade damage often associated with traditional scaffolding. A rope access team can typically complete 10-12 drops on a single building per day, reaching multiple areas of the façade and inspecting a much larger area of the exterior than possible via suspended scaffolding. For buildings with multiple setbacks, IRA drops are particularly effective because the inspector can navigate and examine multiple setbacks from roof to sidewalk in a single drop.

Rope access has a remarkable safety record and acceptance in the non-destructive testing (NDT) industry. IRATA is an acronym for the Industrial Rope Access Trade Association, which was formed in the UK in the late 1980s. It was applied widely in the offshore oil & gas industry.

Its full acceptance has taken almost 40 years, but it is now a universally accepted method for access to locations that have traditionally required scaffolding. All of the tools are attached to the inspector. This way, there is no chance of losing a tool and hurting someone down below. This is actually far safer than scaffolding from this standpoint.

Some of the standard applications include: boiler inspection, bridge services and inspections, hydrological/dams, marine applications, NDT, painting, sealants and coatings application, petrochemical refinery, power generation (oil & gas), pulp and paper and now masonry inspection.

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