Have you ever looked up at a towering building to see people working while hanging on ropes and harnesses? If high rise window cleaning, or any other rope access work piques your interest, training is one step you’ll need to complete before you jump on rope professionally. The two main certifications recognized professionally for rope access training are SPRAT (Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians), and IRATA (Industrial Rope Access Trade Association). SPRAT is common in North America, and IRATA is seen internationally. The average cost of training is around $1,500 for certification. This does not include the equipment you’ll need from that point forward. It goes without saying, getting certified is not cheap, but with enough planning and saving, it is attainable.
We asked our friend Jimmy from Outlook Window Cleaning to talk us through his training experience. Jimmy has been climbing, both sport and recreationally, for over 20 years, and decided to make it official with a SPRAT level I cert. He checked in with us through video after each day. Below are his videos, along with a summary of the training. Every course is going to be slightly different, but you will be able to get a feel for what it is like to undergo a five-day training.
Jimmy and his peers met at the training location, which, in this case, was the Petzl North American headquarters in West Valley City, UT. Training locations will vary depending on where you live. Each class is taught by SPRAT III certified teachers. They led the class and introduced Jimmy and his group to the equipment they would use throughout the week. SPRAT, like IRATA is for a rope access certification, which is the general term used to categorize high rise window cleaning, wind turbine techs, and other professions that use a rope to access the work. Next, everyone was properly fit for his or her equipment. From there, they got down to business. Using their new gear, they practiced ascending and descending a rope. After, they discussed terminology in a classroom setting. They also talked about SPRAT as an organization, a not-for-profit that advocates for rope access. There are many levels of SPRAT training, ranging from SPRAT I to SPRAT III. Entry-level, like the certification Jimmy is working on, is SPRAT I. A small amount of homework was given to be completed the next day.
After completing “homework” from Day 1, the group met again at the Petzl North American headquarters, where they were asked to prepare questions they might have about terminology and best practices, to which they were given clarification and assistance. Specifically, Jimmy’s class asked about rope deviation and rope redirecting (“Deviation is when the rope needs to fall in a different area than the plumb line. Let’s say your rappelling or going up a line over an exhaust fan. Your rope can’t get caught in the fan so you need to have an anchor on the side keeping you and the rope out of harms way. Here is a link“). After, they hopped onto the ropes for training in rope transfers, ascending a rope, and then transferring onto another rope. They also practiced aid climbing. Jimmy, who has been sport and recreational climbing for many years, became aware of his tendency not to bring his ASAP when ascending. This, he mentions, is from his rappelling down buildings for the last 20 years as a window cleaner. The group also practiced rescues, one of the lessons that SPRAT, and other professional certifications, like to give plenty of attention.
Jimmy and his group climbed on the ropes first thing as they reviewed the skills they had learned on day 2. The goal was to complete each qualification until there was no discrepancy or failure. They continued to practice and to assist each other, as they would later be tested. Getting comfortable on the ropes is achieved through repetition, as well as help and advice from the teachers. During the second half of the day, the group practiced new skills on the rope. They learned how to wrap on the side of an edge of a building, descend over that same edge, before again ascending. For Jimmy, this skill came with ease because those are standard methods for high rise window cleaners. They also practiced hauling and lowering, which is useful for both potential jobs and rescue measures.
Jimmy and his peers spent most of the day on rope. Collectively, the class worked and perfected the skills they had learned, including ascending, descending, rope transfers, aid climbing, rappelling, hauling, and lowering. Day five is when everyone takes the test, so the teachers want to make sure the class is as prepared as possible. Jimmy began to feel in his body the amount of physical work he put into the class and mentions a small harness rash on his shoulder and a flare-up of tendinitis in his elbow. Even after years of rope work, Jimmy mentions these pain points to illustrate that the class takes effort, regardless of the level where you begin. To cap off the day, they also rehearse passing knots.
The day started with an in-class test. It was multiple choice and T/F. Jimmy asserts that the written test is not difficult, so long as you are comfortable with terminology. Next was the on rope portion of the test. This, Jimmy says, is the hard part.
After completing this section of the test, this is the advice he gives:
- Take your time and really concentrate on the skills you are performing.
- Try and do everything in an efficient manner but not to rush through it.
- Drink water in between skills.
“Not everyone passes,” Jimmy says. In fact, a few classmates did not pass. “It’s not something you want to take lightly.”
Thanks to Jimmy from Outlook Window Cleaning for taking us along with him during his SPRAT I training. If high rise window cleaning is something that interests you, it is necessary to get training to help you stay safe and ready for anything. Read up on all things high rise window cleaning here; including more important points about training, rescue plans, and gear you’ll need to begin. Click here to see what training facilities SPRAT is working with near you and find your path to the top.