Operational, technical and maintenance work is part and parcel of any building’s lifecycle to ensure the longevity and longterm value of the asset, and this is certainly the case for Western Europe’s tallest building: The Shard. When it comes to work being carried out at height, a proactive approach to health and safety is required, with robust measures, static and dynamic risk assessment, and health and safety management processes in place to eliminate the chance of an incident occurring.

The Shard has 14 purpose built building maintenance units (BMUs) which are used to reach levels four to 94, as well as seven gondolas that clean from level four and below. This requires specialist maintenance procedures and a bespoke approach to health and safety that goes beyond standard methodology.

Standing at 310m high, the change in weather and climatic conditions from top to bottom is another huge consideration when it comes to carrying out work at the higher levels. Weather is one of our key concerns. Rain, temperature and wind all have the ability to prevent works at height.

In line with the industry standard, every individual carrying out work at height must be fully trained and qualified to legal requirements, including ‘familiarisation’ training on each specific BMU, harness experience and ‘Work At Height Awareness’ training.

“when dealing with the unique set of circumstances that tall buildings such as The Shard present, it is important to continually review and even challenge typical health and safety methods”

To operate the BMUs, our operatives comply with the UK’s “Working at Height Regulations 2005”. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Planning and organisation, such as confirming safe methods of BMU operation and highlighting the rescue plan if power is lost to the unit
  • Risk assessment of processes to ensure the most appropriate equipment is used, including access and egress to and from the BMU from within the building’s ‘BMU garages’
  • Ensuring competent workers – our service partners demonstrate the qualification, skills and knowledge to work safely with the access equipment provided
  • Prioritising collective protection measures over the individual protection measures – with fit-for purpose access routes, edge protection and the BMU access equipment all providing a higher level of safety to window cleaners, façade inspectors and maintenance engineers
  • Rigorous inspection and testing of access equipment and associated plant, including a programme of BMU ‘cradle’ tests and inspections by the insurers, the BMU service provider, and the operatives accessing the equipment – before and after use

When dealing with the unique set of circumstances that tall buildings such as The Shard present, however it is important to continually review and even challenge typical health and safety methods. While compliance with industry standards is a given, there is a need to go further to minimise any elements of risk and stringent measures are required for each stage of the process. This is exemplified in our BMU operating requirements for before, during and after the work is complete.


Prior to any work being carried out at height, specific site induction processes are important to ensure that the individuals involved have a clear understanding of the building and any unique risks. At The Shard, this includes everything from checking communication systems within the BMU ‘cradles’, to explaining processes for different weather conditions and safe operating times, to confirming ‘rescue plans’ and even down to checking that no-one scheduled to work has a fear of heights!

It is also important for them to feel able to proactively report any additional observations, hazards or risks that might not have already been picked up on the risk assessment and method statement (RAMS) documentation. Along with daily briefings and weather checks, the Shard Quarter Team are fully informed of all activities taking place in the building and have access to all the documentation and permits via our central software system.

All of our BMU operators must be qualified with the International Rope Access Trade Association (IRATA) to ensure they have the correct capabilities for the work required. Each operator also must undergo a BMU ‘familiarisation’ session before they are able to operate the unit. In addition, BMU access equipment is under a strict regime of maintenance to ensure the highest levels of standards are adhered to – they are also regularly inspected and certificated by insurance inspectors and independent consultants. It is essential that along with checks of radio communications and harnesses, each BMU gets a “pre-flight”

check with a qualified engineer before it’s handed over to a BMU qualified driver. Any signs of wear and tear or degradation are noted with replacement parts and critical spares kept on site for our 24/7 team of engineers to make immediate repairs.

During works

The operators are harnessed in the BMU and all equipment is tethered. When operating the BMUs for cleaning and maintenance, we always have a service partner “bench team” that remains in the service control centre, working alongside the two operators carrying out the tasks. This buddying system is fundamental to ensuring BMU operators take regular breaks, and radio communication systems are used to ensure constant contact with the support team. If there were ever to be any near misses, building defects or safety interventions, these can be reported through our single building software system, which enables all partners to report issues via one platform, which is essential for the quick escalation of any issue.

A clear rescue plan that is authorised by the building management team is also crucial for each BMU in operation. If the BMU were to lose communication or on-board control for any reason, we have a stringent plan to call the BMU back manually, as opposed to its automated mode. Technical engineers are on hand within the building and each BMU operator is fully trained in rope access and abseiling. Outside of these BMU operating processes, we also ensure:

• Shard Quarter building management team are briefed daily as part of the fire systems strategy on activities for that day and where people are working in order to account for all individuals 112 Article | Working at Height • Control of all the fire and operating systems are monitored by the team in the 24/7 operations and security room to ensure that all personnel can be contacted immediately and that we remain in contact in case of an emergency • CCTV cameras are used to manage and record safe systems of working. Hand held devices record specific checklists to ensure all equipment is checked in and out

REM’s oneteam approach at The Shard

Managing a range of occupiers from varying sectors presents a complex management challenge. The Shard’s vertical city comprises a 26-floor office complex, world-class bars and restaurants, a 19-floor five-star hotel and the UK’s highest viewing gallery. This diversity increases the chance of one occupier impacting on another and also means that the building is operational around the clock.

In a building that thrives from a 24-hour economy, we have to meticulously plan the optimum times to carry out maintenance activity. A quiet time for one occupier may be the busiest for another. However, strong relationships and advanced planning are the solution for delivering our best in class service. We have a dedicated occupier relationship team to collaborate and communicate with representatives from each company and ensure lines of communications remain open to address any concerns immediately. We also use a single mass notification system to deliver alerts when needed to all service partners and key occupier representatives if necessary. Centralised systems and processes are essential for the one-team approach we employ at The Shard.

Maintaining health and safety standards

From construction to fully operational and occupied, buildings go through many stages of transition. There are different demands at each lifecycle stage that need to be accounted for and planned, so it is important to constantly review health and safety approaches in line with the latest industry best practice against the unique challenges of a building.

To ensure that we are working with the best service partners in the industry, we constantly review our provisions and future requirements. When choosing service partners, we assess everything from how staff are trained to checking that the values and culture within their businesses align with our approach.

As technology advances, it changes the role of health and safety – at REM we continually assess our systems and equipment across our portfolio to reduce risks wherever possible. In the future, we could see robotic window cleaning mechanisms and working platforms to eliminate the human risks involved. However, until the technology meets the level required, a proactive, good-practice approach to working at height is the safest option.