Learning the ropes: Installation technique takes signs to new heights

By Max Jaffray

A banner being hauled up with ropes using mechanical advantage and specialty equipment.

A banner being hauled up with ropes using mechanical advantage and specialty equipment.

Large sign installation can provide jaw-dropping visuals that are sure to attract the attention of potential consumers. The windows of high-rise buildings can become a bold statement, while a mural engulfing the side of a five-storey building can catch the eye of every passerby. With advancements in the sign installation industry, it is possible to install a 9-m (30-ft) plus fascia sign or a banner that spans the size of a two-storey building. With the many possibilities of sign installation, the method in which the projects are completed has become increasingly important. Compared to other installation methods, rope access techniques allow highly trained professionals to increase efficiency and safety, all while expanding the available sign options for the client and reducing disruptions to the building.

Also known as industrial climbing, this installation technique is a form of work positioning, initially developed from techniques used in climbing and caving, which applies practical rope work to allow workers to access difficult-to-reach locations without the use of scaffolding, cradles, or an aerial work platform. Technicians descend, ascend, and traverse ropes for access and work while suspended by their harness. Sometimes a work seat may be used. The support of the rope is intended to eliminate the likelihood of a fall altogether, but a back-up fall arrest system is used in case of the unlikely failure of the primary means of support. This redundancy system is usually achieved by using two ropes—a working line and a safety line.

How rope access is advancing the sign industry

The current state of high-rise sign installation can be complex in nature, efficiency, and safety. Swing stage scaffolding involves a platform suspended from a building using either ropes or cables. Large equipment is often required, resulting in hours of additional setup and take down time being charged to the client. For larger projects, these steps may need to be done numerous times to move to the next section of the project. Using a swing stage for sign installation can be expensive and lead to damage to the building. It can also increase the danger involved in the installation. Some swing stage companies will perform the install themselves; although this is rare, if offered, it comes at a much higher cost. In other cases, they will train the installation company’s staff on how to work the swing stage. After training, they will rig the swing stage with outriggers and heavyweights, allowing the sign company’s staff to complete the project themselves. That said, minimum training and lack of experience can lead to the improper use of the equipment and increased likelihood of an accident.

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  1. Safety

Rope access sign installation consists of highly trained professionals who are prepared for potential emergency situations and trained in the necessary rescue procedures. At all times, an individual trained in first aid and CPR will be on-site during the project. Rope access professionals have 2000-plus hours on the ropes during which they are subject to a high standard of training. A two-rope system is always used, providing a failsafe backup in case of error or malfunction. The completion of an annual equipment maintenance inspection report is required, as is the regulatory compliance for personal protective equipment (PPE), and a daily hazard assessment.


  1. Accessibility

Rope access broadens the scope of sign installation by providing professionals the ability to reach in and around corners, over and under bridges, along rooftops, and more. Further, it dramatically reduces the restrictions that bucket trucks and lifts experience when they are unable to get close enough to the installation site due to the surroundings. The use of specific anchors also enables sign installers to access hard-to-reach areas, while maintaining an increased level of safety.


  1. Cost

Rope access eliminates the need for swing stage rentals, bucket trucks, or lifts, reducing overhead costs and labour hours for sign installation companies. Without the extra time needed for setup and take down, the cost of a project completed using the rope access method can be much less than that of swing stage installation.

Typically, when using a lift, it will take approximately 14 hours to complete a sign installation (depending on the project of course). Whereas, the rope access technique will allow an installer to finish the project in less than nine hours. If swing stage scaffolding is used, it could take up to 32 hours to finish the install.

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