Scaling New Heights
fmME goes to the top of Raffles Dubai
fmME goes to the top of Raffles Dubai to check out the access solutions that Spider Access provides at this iconic five-star hotel
It’s a clear Sunday morning in December, with the sun fully resplendent in a cloudless Arabian sky. From our vantage point on top of the Raffles hotel in Dubai, the city’s skyline, with icons like the Burj Khalifa and the Emirates Towers, is extremely striking in its visibility.
Under normal circumstances, we’d probably remain staring at the Dubai skyline—but today, our eyes are trained on the glass pyramid that tops Raffles Dubai, for there are six men, dressed in bright yellow, expertly scaling it as we watch.
These are the rope access technicians from Spider Access, an access solutions company with operations in the UAE and Kuwait, who are today working on cleaning the glass capstone atop the 19-storey Raffles Dubai, the only hotel in the emirate to be shaped in the form of a pyramid.
Given its unique shape, and the dizzying height it is located at, cleaning the pyramid is a tricky and challenging affair—but one wouldn’t get that impression from Spider Access’ nimble employees, who seem to be skipping over the glass planes in their ascent towards the apex of the hotel.
Kevin Williams, operations director, Spider Access, credits the confidence of his employees to the training, equipment and safety measures that the company has put in place for all of their projects. For one, all of the operatives they have are trained and certified by the Industrial Rope Access Trade Association (IRATA), the world’s leading authority on industrial rope access.
“All of our staff are trained to the IRATA Level 1 standards before they go on the ropes,” Williams says. “In addition, the team will consist of a mix of IRATA Level 1s and Level 2s supervised by an experienced IRATA qualified Level 3 to monitor and manage the team on site, supported by our technical manager, who will monitor the overall operations.”
To ensure the safety of the technicians, Williams says that the company places a lot of importance on checking the quality of the equipment and ropes they use. Besides being certified on international standards, the ropes are regularly inspected, and changed either when defects are found, or after being used for a maximum period of six months.
A number of safety precautions are taken onsite as well, Williams adds. “We always operate on two different ropes: a working line and a safety line,” he explains. “So if there is a failure, we’ll always have a back-up in place.”
Williams says a typical work day at a Spider Access site begins with the rope access technicians using a safety checklist to first inspect their own equipment, and then proceeding to do a “buddy-check,” where they inspect each other’s harnesses, ropes, etc.
This set-up process takes about an hour to complete, during which the technicians, supervisors and managers discuss and let each other know about any issues or concerns relating to their equipment or the project at hand.
Given the tasks these technicians perform, Williams says that the importance of such safety review processes cannot be discounted.
“In any industry, the human part of it is an extremely important component,” he says. “But for us, particularly, our people are our biggest asset—that is our machinery, that is our concrete asset. So, safety for us is not second nature; it’s first nature. It’s in the nature of the job.”
But ensuring the safety of its resources is just one of the challenges that Spider Access faces at the Raffles Dubai site. Thanks to its iconic architecture, Raffles Dubai provides a unique cleaning and maintenance challenge. According to Williams, the hotel’s pyramid structural design has made Raffles Dubai one of the most technically challenging buildings to secure access to across the whole of the company’s portfolio.
Technical manager Isagani Esteban points out one particularly taxing challenge for the Spider Access team at the Raffles Dubai site. In the case of a normal high-rise building, technicians would start their work at the top of the structure, and then move their way towards the bottom.
But Raffles Dubai’s pyramidal architecture doesn’t allow for that modus operandi, Esteban explains. As a result, Spider Access’ technicians are required to first climb to the very top of the Raffles pyramid, and then slowly work their way downwards.
Esteban also notes that since Raffles Dubai is a functioning five-star hotel, the Spider Access team also needs to incorporate the hotel’s specific demands when planning their cleaning activities.
“With hotels, we are generally allowed to work only specific times,” Esteban says. “We need to cooperate with the hotel team, and plan our schedule such that it doesn’t affect their operations and that we don’t inconvenience the hotel guests in any way.”
“The contract requires us to facilitate up to six cleaning cycles, mainly on the areas that have difficult access, such as the pyramid, a diagonal glass façade, lift shaft glazing, entrance canopies and the non-accessible balconies on all six sides of the hotel,” Williams adds.
“The unique exterior has made Raffles Dubai one of the city’s most noticeable landmarks, which requires specialist skills and expertise to maintain.”
Besides cleaning, Spider Access offers clients a number of other services as well.
“Predominantly, our work relates to maintenance activities, but we also undertake glass replacement, silicon replacement, inspections of buildings, changing aircraft warning lights, painting at high levels.,” Williams says. “We primarily use rope access as a means of doing activities at specific heights.”
Besides Raffles Dubai, Spider Access counts among its iconic clients the 80-storey Index tower in Dubai, one of the city’s most striking skyscrapers, which was awarded the 2011 Best Tall Building Middle East Middle East and Africa by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.
The company also works on a number of prominent Emaar buildings in Downtown Dubai, which include the Residences, the Lofts, Souk Al Bahar, Standpoint Towers, South Ridge and others.
Williams credits Spider Access’s many successful contracts to its high-performance team of rope access technicians, and the company therefore places a lot of importance in taking care of its employees. Williams says that it’s a close-knit team, with the company’s management making it a priority to allow their employees to grow along with the company.
“In all honesty, Spider Access is more of a family,” he says. “We have had very few people that have left the company, since we make sure we provide our employees with an inclusive environment.”
Besides motivational exercises and team-building activities, Williams says that Spider Access is also very interested in investing in its human resources. For those employees who have finished a requisite number of work hours and their level 1 training, the company helps them advance in their careers by paying for their IRATA training in higher levels.
This adherence to protocol, combined with the excellent results Spider Access provides, counts as a major reason for the company’s four-year-long working relationship with the Raffles Dubai.
Impressed with Spider Access’ handling of this unique cleaning and maintenance challenge, the hotel recently extended its contract with Spider Access for another year of service.
Ayman Gharib, hotel manager, Raffles Dubai, says, “The responsibility in maintaining the outside facade to the highest of standards was awarded to Spider Access by Raffles Dubai management, after careful assessment of their proficiency and track record in Dubai.”
Commenting on the extension of the contract, Gharib says, “We are confident that Spider Access will continue to do an outstanding job and we look forward to working with them.”
For Mazen Harake, managing director, Spider Access, the extension of the company’s contract with Raffles Dubai is testimony to its good work there.
Harake says, “Raffles Dubai is a prestigious client and we are delighted to have been their partners for several years. Our longstanding relationship with them has meant that we have developed an understanding and alignment that has given us a platform to deliver a high quality service that such a landmark warrants.”
Meet the daredevils
The Spider Access team working at Raffles Dubai:
- Harkah Bahadur
- Binod Kumar
- Tulsi Ram
- Nar Bahadur
- Sunil Senchuri
- Narendra Rai
- Min Bahadur
- Fanso Poulose
- Ram Chandra
- Khum Bahadur
- Kamal Rana
- Birka Bahadur