The sparkling buildings of the Dubai skyline are quite an international spectacle. What keeps these structures gleaming throughout the year are high-level specialist façade cleaning companies. The work is carried out by highly trained, professional, IRATA certified, rope access technicians who work to strict schedules and who must adhere to extremely high levels of safety, international standards and including meticulous planning.
Grako LLC was formed in the UAE in 2004 and has been the region’s foremost company when it comes to high level specialist external façade cleaning; it is considered a centre of excellence when it comes to health & safety innovation and the promotion of safe working practices in the regionWith its many years of experience and a relentless commitment to safety and highquality workmanship, working on elaborate and high-profile projects such as the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Airports is now second nature to them. Alain El Tawil, Managing Partner of Grako, says, “We promise uncompromised dedication and commitment to safety, and it comes first in everything we do, which allows us to deliver unmatched results to our customers.Come what may, we do not cut corners; safety is the core of our business.”
“Long before any regulations were mandated in the UAE, Grako was already in the lead in terms of professional certification and accreditation, and by 2009 we had become an IRATA international operating member, IPAF member, MEFMA member and IWCA member, besides also achieving ISO certifications (9001, 18001 and 14001). We are always creating initiatives to improve,” says El Tawil.
Some of the company’s most prominent and influential initiatives were taken in September 2017 with one of their most prestigious clients - Dubai Airports.
“What we did at Dubai Airports was a pure HSE initiative and is a result of our ethos of never ending improvement and solving problems before they happen,” says Mike Flamson, Rope Access Operations Manager at Grako. Dubai International Airport is possibly the busiest airport in the world, and Grako has been delivering consistently on its annual maintenance contract scope there for the past 5 years. Flamson says, “With my experience of having worked at airports in the UK, there is always an expectation for high levels of H&S and timely project delivery. With Dubai Airports being at the forefront of excellence, prestige and high standards, we had to ensure we were proactive in ensuring outstanding levels of HSE and quality of work.”
He adds, “I believe that to be successful in avoiding any HSE issues we have to be proactive, and my job is to always think ahead and foresee problems before they happen. Implementing measures and innovations to prevent problems is the key to successful H&S in any operation in addition to consistently enforcing those measures.”
Flamson’s job over the past 5 years has not only been to project manage the demanding maintenance schedule at the Dubai Airports concourses but also to be present at the site daily to see that all procedures and quality are checked and up to standard and that H&S is never compromised. He ensures that the teams are monitored daily.
One potential detrimental risk when working at height is dropping objects, explains Flamson. As a rope access Level 3 IRATA Instructor and Assessor including being the Chairman of the IRATA Middle East Regional Advisory Committee, one of his aims is to prevent accidents before they on certain procedures, and they are followed consistently; “However,” he says, “human error can sometimes not be mitigated, so we have to do our utmost to innovate and work in a way that doesn't allow for human error especially when working with equipment.”
Recently, the specialist company has implemented two innovations at Dubai Airports; the first was the addition of a new Helmet Mounted PETZL Shaded Eye Shield, which is secured to the helmet while working. The eye shield protects the technicians’ eyes from constant UV exposure; it protects their face from debris and hot water splashing during high-pressure washing, and the tinted visor ensures proper vision at all times especially while working against reflective surfaces and in sunlight. The accessory is permanently attached to the helmet and there is no chance of it falling or dropping unlike traditional safety glasses.
The second HSE innovation was to replace one of the most safety-critical parts of the technician’s kit, the safety backup device, with the new PETZL ASAP Lock backup device. Existing backup devices that have worked efficiently so far have a couple of major flaws in that they can be overridden by the technician if they panic and grab the device, which can cause a malfunction when most needed and can be dropped when removing it or placing it on another rope if mishandled. The PETZL ASAP Lock prevents both situations from arising when used correctly.
Flamson explains, “What happens normally with rope access is that the user has to use two independent ropes – one is the working line and the other is the backup line - the operative works on the main line, and all his weight is on that rope. The backup line is used in case something goes wrong with the working line. However, if the back-up device can be overridden, safety is compromised. If the technician grabs it in a moment of panic and overrides it, it may not work the way it is meant to and wouldn’t save his life.” However, this new backup device provides a feature called ‘continual safety’ and is cutting-edge equipment. These initiatives leave technicians more time to focus on the job at hand and more reassured about their safety on the ropes. They also know that the company invests in their safety and well-being regardless of the cost.
Several months ago Grako also introduced the Grako CIT Programme, which is an in-house designed continual training programme that extends across all projects. On a monthly basis, all technicians and operators are trained on a broad spectrum of topics including risk assessments, hazard spotting and control and leadership. “The continuous education is invaluable; it's not a course as such as Grako believe learning and education is an on-going process that never stops. Using innovative equipment is one thing, but actually investing time, energy and effort into training our people is what pays off in the long run,” says El-Tawil.
On the grounds of these HSE initiatives, Dubai Airports awarded Grako a certificate of appreciation for their proactive contribution to HSE and for sharing their HSE exemplary culture with other service provider’s onsite. They are they also in strong contention at Dubai Airports’ year-end HSE awards ceremony for all 3rd party contractors for ‘Company of the Year’.
“Our vision”, El-Tawil says, “When we started leading the way with initiatives and accreditations, was to influence the rest of the industry around the Middle East, hoping that all fellow industry contenders would follow the trend, and by doing so health and safety standards, amongst other matters, would be raised to sustain a healthier industry and happier customers in the long run.”
After so many years in this competitive business, GRAKO still thrives on its professionalism and safety-first philosophy. It is realized every day by their people who live up to the company’s culture of unity and passion – this culture has become the institutional fabric of the company’s success since 2004