Graco Inc.

Let’s Get To It

From JPCL May/June 2024

By Robert Ikenberry; Katharine Stay, IRATA International; Michael Halliwell

Photo: pidjoe / Getty Images

Editor’s Note: The following guidance has been compiled from excerpts of previously published JPCL and PaintSquare articles covering access-related topics including scaffolding, rope access, elevated work platforms and more. The excerpts have been reviewed and updated for this issue by JPCL staff.

Access, Access, Access: Reach Out and Hug a Bridge

By Robert Ikenberry, California Engineering Contractors

(Blog Post Updated From PaintSquare.com, May 2017)

We’ve all heard the real-estate cliché: “The three most important things about selling a house are location, location, location.” Realtors focus on location because most of the other features of a home can be adjusted. You can remodel a kitchen, you can upgrade insulation or improve windows, you can change the horrible yellow color and you can plant bushes to obscure the rusting cars in the neighbor’s backyard—but you can’t generally pick the house up and move it.

Bridge-painting jobs should have a similar mantra: Access, access, access. You can make a lot of adjustments to your crews, equipment and work methods, but if you don’t have good access to the structure, an efficient project is impossible. Therefore, you can’t just subcontract out the access and forget it. Different trades have different access needs. What works for ironworkers or electricians won’t work for painters. You need an access system designed specifically with your work scope in mind and overseen by someone experienced in the means and methods of bridge cleaning and painting.

First, you need to get really close to the steel for effective painting. Three feet away might as well be a mile. “Spitting distance” isn’t painting distance. Abrasive blasting might be a little more “hands-off,” but to really inspect, stripe, prime and finish-paint a steel structure like a bridge, you not only need to reach out and touch it, you really need to be able to “hug” the members.

Complex shapes and interiors of laced members are common on bridges. You need to get at them from both sides. And they have lots of edges, nooks and crannies that need direct attention and visibility from every angle. Plus, you need that access at every level. You must be able to reach around to coat edges, bolts and rivets, to reach through to coat interior surfaces, and to reach in and around to coat the interior edges, rivets and bolts. Touching the outside surfaces of a complex member is just not close enough.

Scaffold systems have generally been designed with a 6-foot, 6-inch level spacing, and that’s just about right for painting access. Certainly, 8-foot levels are too tall. In many instances, you really need to be able to get your head above the highest ledge or beam flange, so you can see over and down onto the inside edge. With a 6-foot, 6-inch spacing you can generally reach down from above for that top foot or so and see over the edge of a ledge up to about the 5-foot, 6-inch level, so that works pretty well. Plus, you can probably reach up to the bottom few inches of the members on the next level, where workers on the upper level can’t really see to reach around and under. There always needs to be a “reachability” overlap between the scaffold levels for true coverage.

When I say you need to be able to “hug” the steel, this goes for vertical columns and posts as well. You need to be able to reach them comfortably from both sides with good overlap, so that all the nuts, bolts, rivets, welds and edges can get attention from all directions.

Remember this height limitation when you’re designing platforms under the decks of bridges as well. If you can walk under the stringers of the bridge without ducking, your platform is too low. Stringers are typically 18 to 24 inches, and you need to be able to reach up to the top flanges and coat around the bolt or rivet clusters at their attachments. That means being able to reach up so that the back of your wrist—not just your fingertips—can touch the the underside of the deck of the bridge. The time you lose crouching down to stoop (or even crawl) under 4-foot floor beams that are only 2 feet, 6 inches above the deck is worth it when you have to work on the top flanges of the floor beams and stringers.

Remember, for really good access to the steel on a bridge, you don’t just need to be able to reach out and touch it: You need to be able to really wrap your arms around it.

Photo: albanwr / Getty Images

Rope Access for Inspection, Testing and Maintenance of Industrial Structures

By Katharine Stay, IRATA International

(Article updated from JPCL, December 2018)

Nowadays, the application of industrial rope access is widespread throughout industry and is a globally accepted means of access. The core advantages of using rope access methods lie predominantly in the ease with which workers can safely gain access and egress from difficult-to-reach locations, often with minimal impact on other operations and surrounding areas. When compared with other means of access, a significant advantage is the reduction in man-hours and time-at-risk associated with setup operations required to gain access in the first instance.

The absence of cumbersome access equipment facilitates work solutions at power stations, refineries and storage depots. The low spark/ignition risk with rope access methods also affirms it as a suitable solution. Where large access vehicles or structures might have insufficient room, or perhaps hinder other work, a rope access team can move around such locations without disruption to unrelated tasks. Work undertaken can range from basic inspection and minor repair, to substantial maintenance and even removal and replacement of a structure or equipment.

Large construction projects supporting the offshore sector are often undertaken with the aid of rope access systems. For example, industrial rope access is widely used for works on derricks and similar constructions, such as floating sheerlegs. Rope access work can often be observed in practice on large ships, both at sea and while in harbor. Painting and inspection work can be carried out above the waterline while a vessel is in port or at sea, and even between tides if this is a factor. Additionally, the inspection and repair of deep locks can also be conducted in a short period, thus minimizing the time such a facility is out of commission.

Industrial rope access is at home on unusual structures and can achieve setup and dismantling times that no other means of access can rival. Due to this, work can often be undertaken by rope access means in a timescale that avoids any disruption to the normal work carried out at the jobsite. It is for these reasons that specialist certified rope access companies can often be found undertaking inspection and maintenance work in the great ports of the world where an access structure that prevents use of a crane or similar equipment can be obstructive and disruptive.

The current global demand for clean energy has resulted in rapid growth in the renewable energy sector. In line with this drive is the increased development of wind turbines, often situated in remote locations and predominately inaccessible to other access methods. Industrial rope access offers a safe, cost-effective and flexible method of access to enable regular maintenance and repair tasks for these structures. Trained and certified rope access technicians now provide their skilled services worldwide in the renewable energy sector, conducting wind turbine blade inspection and repair, maintenance, painting and cleaning operations. Traditional rope access techniques combined with the use of advanced powered rope ascenders are now commonplace in this fast-expanding sector.

Like any other method of working at heights, the application of rope access should be regarded as a complete system in which planning, management, competence and suitable equipment are of equal importance, as each is dependent on the other to ensure a safe system of work.

It is imperative that all participants of a rope access project implement correct precautions to minimize the risks of workplace dangers, safeguarding both employees and the public. It is ordinarily the client’s duty to ensure that everyone understands the part they need to play in preparing and maintaining a safe working environment. The client therefore must be satisfied that the company chosen can do the job safely and without risks. This requires a process of due diligence, making inquiries about the competence of the rope access company, such as, do they have the right combination of skills, experience and knowledge to fulfill the work scope?

When undertaken by a professionally trained and well-supervised workforce performing to set and establish operating procedures, industrial rope access delivers safe work practices for inspection, testing and maintenance of a wide range of industrial structures, often with significant advantages over alternative access methods.

Photo: dogayusufdokdok / Getty Images

Getting Down to Earth with Elevated Work Platforms

By Michael Halliwell, Thurber Engineering Ltd.

(Article updated from JPCL, March 2018)

Elevated work platforms (EWPs) are a valuable tool at the work site and allow access to areas that we could otherwise not readily reach. EWPS come in many different variants including scissor lifts, boom lifts, push-around units (i.e., for changing lights in a warehouse area) and those mounted on vehicles (like those used by utility companies). In coating and construction work, the former two are the most common.

However, they also come with their fair share of hazards that must be assessed and addressed for safe use. So how do we, as painters, avoid getting into serious trouble using EWPs?

The first step is getting the training you need before you get into the basket or onto the platform. Without appropriate training, you won’t have any idea about the EWP hazards you face or what you need (to do or make use of) to mitigate those hazards.

Just Like New Overspray Management
TMI Coatings, Inc.

The first critical piece of training you should go through is fall-arrest or fall-protection training, which covers the basics you need to know to safely and effectively use the gear that will keep you from falling from heights and also provide a level of protection against being ejected from the EWP platform if you misjudge the terrain.

The second piece of training is EWP training. Although a lift may look straightforward, there is a lot that goes into operating one safely. Do you know how to carry out the proper pre-use checks and visual inspection? What are the limits of the equipment? What sort of planning goes into successfully using a lift? The answers to these questions can be crucial when it comes to preventing injury due to an equipment failure, being able to get back to the ground in the event you are no longer in the lift basket or even helping to prevent toppling the EWP.

Fall-arrest training, personal protective equipment and learning what toggle or joystick actions cause which movements on an EWP will not prevent a worker from getting into trouble. There are many other hazards that are somewhat unique to using an EWP, such as electrocution and entrapment, that can be easy to miss without proper job planning.

You not only need to plan for the job itself, but also for what could go wrong. The foremost question to ask during planning is, “What happens if … ?”

Ask “What hazards are there in the work area?” “Are there electrical or other lines?” “Are there structures that could make maneuvering difficult or lead to entrapment?” “What is the right personal protective equipment to use with the EWP?” “Is there a basket watch to get you back to the ground if you fall off the lift and are dangling by your fall-arrest system?” “Does the basket watch know what to do to get you down?”

Seymour Midwest
Quikspray, Inc.

Boom lifts are not light—is the ground strong enough to support the weight? Is the terrain rough and if so, how will you access the work area with the lift? What happens if there is a crushing type of entrapment incident with the lift? What is the emergency response plan if there is an incident, especially one at height? These and many more questions should be asked, answered, and more importantly, acted upon before any work is done using an EWP.

Once at the site, you need to make sure that the equipment is as ready to go as you are. This means carrying out the full safety checks and inspection as mandated by the manufacturer of the EWP. Full range-of-motion checks and inspections take time but can identify mechanical issues that have the potential for major consequences. After all, no worker wants to be 50 feet in the air and have a boom lock up or buckle because of an issue that should have been spotted during the safety check.

The last part of using EWPs safely is to be focused on the work and actually work the plan. You’ve planned for the hazards for the job, so don’t create new ones. If something changes, take a moment to stop and think about how that might alter the potential for hazards. It’s better to take a couple minutes to come “down to earth” and review the changes than to dive right into an incident.



base painters
Tarps manufacturing, Inc.




Robert Ikenberry

Robert Ikenberry, PCS, has been in industrial painting and construction since 1975. Now semi-retired as the Safety Director and Project Manager for California Engineering Contractors, Robert stays busy rehabbing, retrofitting and painting bridges. His documentary on the 1927 Carquinez Bridge was the pilot for National Geographic’s Break it Down and an episode of MegaStructures.


Katharine Stay
IRATA International


Michael Halliwell

Michael Halliwell, M.Eng., CESA, EP, P.Eng., is an Associate and Environmental Engineer for Thurber Engineering Ltd. in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. During his 17-plus years with the company, he has been involved with environmental site assessment, remediation, construction inspection and supervision, and project management. He also performs hazardous building material assessments for asbestos and lead paint.


Tagged categories: Access; Features; Rope access; Scaffolding; Work platform


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