PS: What hazards are associated with window cleaning?
Stefan: The window cleaning industry is segmented into two categories: ground work and suspended work. Ground crews clean windows by accessing them using ground-based equipment, including extension poles, ladders and aerial man lifts. Suspended workers are supported on the sides and off the roofs of buildings while cleaning.
Cleaning windows is relatively simple, so professional training takes about 6 months. It is accessing the windows that presents numerous safety concerns. Regardless of which type of window cleaning, the most important aspect is to formulate a plan, including site assessment and hazard identification. Once you know the hazards, mitigation strategies can be implemented to protect crews. Putting the plan in writing makes it easy to use repeatedly, which can be valuable since window cleaning is a repetitive form of maintenance.
Hazards that ground workers must be aware of include slips, trips and falls because their equipment is around pedestrians. Obstructions on the ground, such as landscaping and traffic, are also common hazards. Additionally, because window-cleaning equipment extends from the ground up, overhead hazards such as electric lines may exist.
Suspended workers face similar hazards but on a greater scale. Falling is the number one hazard for both categories, but a fall from a high-rise building is much more significant than a fall down a few steps. High-rise workers suspend their equipment and themselves from the roof, so close attention must be paid to rigging points and how lifelines and working lines are attached. Other concerns include electrical lines and devices that may be found on the roofs, and individuals working below, on or around the operation. Both categories of window cleaners must also prepare for environmental hazards such as thunderstorms, lightning and high winds.
PS: Does the industry have any window cleaning standards?
Stefan: ANSI/IWCA I-14 Window Cleaning Safety Standard was published in 2001. It became a tool that the window cleaning community could use to recommend that building owners do their part by making buildings safer for window cleaning. The standard also helps window cleaners increase safety in their operations. I have been involved in the committee for that standard from the beginning, and it has been the guiding light for window cleaning safety over the past 13 years.
PS: Discuss your role in establishing a field manual, training and standards for window cleaning safety.
Stefan: I started in the window cleaning business in 1978, when no window cleaning standards, regulations or trade association existed. You could only gain the skill sets needed by learning from the company that hired you. Workers learned from the best worker, who learned it from someone else. Yet, that does not mean it was right, especially when it comes to safety. I was in the business for 10 or 11 years and my company was doing okay, but we were doing a lot of guesswork.
In 1989, there was a an industry conference in Lubbock, TX, which was attended by 60 companies across the U.S. During that conference, attendees typically agreed that something must be done to stop the guesswork and make industry procedures more concrete. At that conference, International Window Cleaning Association (IWCA) was born.
IWCA is focused on bringing window cleaners together and getting everybody to do the right thing all the time. The organization began holding an annual trade show. I attended the first two shows, and in 1990, OSHA opened the regulation development process for walking and working surfaces, in which some window-cleaning methods were addressed. I attended and participated in that hearing, and as a result, the IWCA board of directors solicited my interest in joining them. I got on the board and they put me in charge of the safety training standards committee.
My first task was to work with the committee to create a field manual to provide a standard set of safety practices for window cleaners. The manual was finished in 1993, and because it was the first of its kind, nearly 3,000 copies were sold almost instantly. The manual led to a safety training program that included classroom and hands-on training. One thing morphed into the next, and that program still exists today.
ANSI/IWCA I-14 was developed because the field manual was just a trade association recommendation, and we collectively thought that with ANSI recognition our set of safety practices would really stick. The process of applying for accreditation began in 1997 before it was gained in 1999. The standard was published in 2001, and ever since, we have focused on promoting the standard.