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Arboriculture, Industrial Rope Access, Search & Rescue?

It seems clear that there are a cohort of related industries that face similar challenges: we all work at height in some way & its difficult to remove the human element from any of these sectors. Now the way we all go about solving these problems is quite varied & it’s important to state that there is no “right of wrong answer” that will cater to all situations. In fact this variation should be celebrated & hopefully a healthy discussion of some of the equipment & techniques involved will lead to future innovations in safety & productivity for all.



So who are we talking about here? As far as I can tell, there seems to “The Big Three” industry sectors which consists of the aforementioned Arboriculture, Rope Access and Search & Rescue disciplines. Now it’s important to tread carefully here but you can extend this further to include sporting activities such as rock climbing, caving & canyoning. The need for caution is that as soon as you cross the line between work & leisure there are of course distinct legal implications in terms of the certification required for the equipment used. That said, there are still many great techniques which can be used for work which come from a sporting background. Don’t forget - Cavers were using SRT way before it became cool in arboriculture.

SRT setup and adjustment

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Coming from an arboriculture background, I know plenty of contract climbers who also IRATA qualified. This is by no means a requirement for most tasks & often this is just because they like the variation & to expand their skill-set. Sometimes employers will be required to cross-certify their climbers in order to tackle a different job. Clearing vegetation from steep railway embankments comes to mind as a task which necessitates the use of a chainsaw from rope and harness, but can effectively be completed predominantly by descent & with the inclusion of a backup on a second line [rope access style].

Industrial rope access seems to share a lot in common with search & rescue in terms of the rigging techniques involved. Much of the equipment is directly transferable & they both certainly seem to be better at tying knots that the average arborist! Now where arborists excel is moving in the lateral plane - try and find a rope access technician who can reach a window that is more than a few metres either side of where their rope is suspended.



When you start to take a look at gear, the sailing industry is responsible for some of the most well designed & high quality rope handling equipment out there. Take the GRCS for example, this revolutionised the way arborists go about taking down big trees without heavy machinery. It’s a great piece of arborist equipment but at its heart is a largely unmodified sailing winch. Who would have thought that there could be such an effective solution to a problem in one industry already available in another?

GRCS harken winch

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Conversely, I can think of many times that a rope access or rescue technician has marvelled over my “non-standard” prusik hitch [French prusik or similar] and the way that it so subtly opens & closes when compared to their “one size fits all” English prusik approach.


Below is a table that compares some of the relative merits & limitations of the way we do things in various sectors:




  • Ability to fluidly move in any axis
  • Flexible & versatile approach to work practices
  • Rough on gear
  • Disappointing safety record


  • Highly certified industry with admirable safety record
  • Highly proficient & tidy with knots
  • Transitioning from ascent to descent modes
  • Techniques & equipment often limited to set approach


  • Innovative & high quality equipment
  • Most rope splicing techniques originate here
  • Equipment often of great cost


  • Exceptional rigging & mechanical advantage skills
  • Solutions can be “gear intensive” [but a skilled rigger should be able to achieve a lot with a little].


  • Lightweight equipment
  • Often skilled at solving problems with minimalist or low cost equipment
  • Gear often not suitable for a work environment
  • Risk taking based on alternative paradigm to work based situation




The Rescue Magazine series of publications are a great range of print & digital publications which include Technical Rescue, ArbClimber, Park Ranger and Access & Rescue. They tend to focus on equipment & techniques rather than news & policy, they are well worth a subscription.

Take a look at Vertical Connect - an interdisciplinary forum for related working at height industries to get together and discuss common ground. It would be great to see more events like these so that we can focus on what we have in common & not why “our way is best”.

Who knows what solutions are already out there but simply in a different industry?


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  • This article does a very good job of identifying examples of rope access disciplines.
    Good job!

    Dave Sutter
  • Very good article, this work (rope access) must be safe. Sorry by my english.
    Well, lo que quiero decir es que, ante todo, este tipo de trabajo, debe ser seguro. Tanto en las maniobras como en la manipulación de las herramientas. Y ustedes amigos, nos entregan una buena ayuda para que nuestras herramientas no caigan accidentalmente.
    Un saludo amigos.

    Técnico Irata

    Christian Nuñez

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