Scaling the heights
Dated: 06-01-2015
By Zenifer Khaleel

One of the most distinguished features in the metropolises of the UAE is the towering buildings which adorn its skyline. But maintaining these buildings in their clean gleaming glory is a monumental task in itself. Scorching temperatures of peak summer, the sheer altitude of the buildings and being suspended from a rope or cleaning station – these are some of the most prominent dangers this task poses for cleaning companies. Buildings have evolved from 10-storey, flat sided, concrete facade structures with small windows inserted into openings to ultra-tall mega structures with full glass facades and curtain wall techniques. As these structures become more complex, so do the means in which they are cleaned and maintained. But cleaning companies across the country have improvised their infrastructure and façade management techniques procedures to cater to the country’s vision of keeping the buildings in ship shape.

The stalwarts of cleaning

One of the leading companies in the industry, Grako LLC was established during the property, tourist and business boom of 2004. “Public appearance became of paramount importance and the UAE Government and Municipality started implementing strict regulations to meet new standards of Health, Safety and cleanliness. Traditional companies were not equipped to offer the standards of service to meet those needs. They did not have alternative cleaning methods to the costly and time consuming methods of repainting facades in order to maintain the general cleanliness and public image of the property,” says Alain El Tawil, Managing Partner of Grako.

Megarme is the first rope access company in the region and the preferred specialized access supplier. They ensure the continual improvement of industry standards across the region whilst offering competitive quality service. “Given 21 years we have been in operation and the amount of infrastructural growth experienced over that period, Megarme has had the unique opportunity to witness the evolution of high rise structures in the region,” says Daniel Gill, Head of Business Development of Megarme. 

The challenges of high rise buildings

Given the height of some of the buildings, pre-planning is of the utmost importance in high rise cleaning. Prior to undertaking any high level cleaning operation, senior managers are required to conduct a thorough site survey and consider all aspects of the work - including equipment requirements, Health & Safety, personnel and emergency rescue. Access is another important factor in ensuring a building’s integrity is maintained over the structures lifespan. If access is difficult, crucial maintenance is not achievable, potentially compromising the structure. Certain environmental contaminants left to accumulate can degrade façade materials causing damage and shortening the timeframes between repair/replacement.
Although the shape of the structure plays a key role on the access, the height of the structure potentially affects the way
a building is approached from a cleaning and maintenance perspective. The higher a structure is, the more exposed it is to the effects of wind, turbulence, and elements that can heavily affect the cleaning and maintenance strategy of a structure.

Cleaning different surfaces

Glass cleaning can be different from cleaning other façade materials such as concrete or aluminum cladding. Work is done more cautiously and in a much more controlled manner with glass. Often there are times people working on the other side in their offices or residence so the cleaners have to ensure their privacy is not disrupted “To prevent any damages or health and safety issues when working with glass we have to consider the equipment we are using, especially while pressure washing,

so as to prevent water from entering the building inadvertently. The cleaning of concrete or aluminum facades is easier in contrast because these materials tend to be more impermeable and robust which lessens the chance of any significant damage occurring,” says El Tawil. Generally when it comes to external cleaning of buildings and larger structures there are two approaches. A Low Pressure Washdown (LPW) or a more detailed, applicator and squeegee clean. The method of cleaning glass is usually determined by the amount of contamination on the surface and the desired level of cleanliness required by the asset manager. Other façade materials such as GRC (Glass Reinforced Concrete) or composite aluminum cladding generally only require a LPW to remove the dust and other environmental elements that have settled on the surface since the last cleaning cycle.

“The overall cleaning strategy should incorporate the complexity of the building façade, the access requirements, the façade materials and the frequency of cleaning. Different methods are employed at different areas of the structure to achieve the best results,” says Gill.

Training the staff

Technicians have to undertake arduous training in order to scale the heights. They are then independently assessed to ensure that they are fit for the job. Once a technician passes the initial training he will carry out work on smaller buildings to gain competence and confidence. He is constantly supervised by experienced supervisors until he is ready to progress to higher buildings. In order to sustain high levels of professionalism, Grako LLC works under the guidelines of the IRATA International (Industrial Rope Access Trade Association).

In Megarme, rope access training is fairly straight forward and can be accomplished in 1 week. The supporting procedures like HSE monitoring and the ongoing on the job training creates a competent, safe and effective rope access technician.

Medical fitness and precautions

General, the physical nature of a rope access role requires a certain level of agility and fitness. The role attracts a certain type of individual who is interested in maintaining a healthy body and mind. “We take extra precautions in the summer months and provide our technicians with water packs which are filled with rehydration salts. Our technicians have more frequent breaks and often stop work completely for a few hours especially at the hottest part of the day. Where necessary

we provide extra supervision to look for any behaviors which may be a sign of fatigue or heat exhaustion,” says El Tawil. Megarme supplies the technicians with chilled isotonic fluids to replace the vital salts and minerals lost when working in the heat. “We also have detailed procedures surrounding work in extreme heat that are designed to prevent heat related incidents prior to them occurring. Sufficient breaks are given and most importantly a buddy system (similar to scuba diving) is employed as a failsafe. Technicians never work alone and have the support of their fellow team members should the unlikely event of an incident occur,” says Gill.

Accident prevention

In Grako, on every site a rescue plan instructs the technicians on what to do in an emergency. The names and telephone numbers of the local emergency services is recorded with additional names and numbers of key, on site personnel. It is also mandatory to have rescue equipment on site with the provision of a trained First Aid Person and First Aid Kit.

Megarme operates a very detailed procedural system that is built around method statements and risk assessments for various tasks. Major accidents are avoided by following stringent procedures and by mitigating of risk prior to the commencement of work. “The interesting thing is that although hanging high above the ground appears to be high risk and unsafe, correctly executed rope access is statistically one of the safest work at height practices available,” says Gill.