Window washing is an occupation that demands much from those who practice its art and science. At times, window washing can be physically exhausting, monotonous, freezing cold and burning hot. To top all of those things, window washers face the ever-present danger posed by working at great heights. That makes taking the appropriate fall protection measures critical; window washers must wear the right gear and practice the right habits to keep themselves safe. Below are a few keys to going home each night, alive and well:
Not too long ago, safety equipment was usually heavy, cumbersome and uncomfortable. Within the last few decades, equipment manufacturers have focused on designing and producing safety gear that is lightweight and comfortable. For window washers, this is a huge positive; more comfortable equipment leads to less exhaustion and overheating, and by extension, fewer accidents.
However, while comfortable equipment is a plus, it's not enough for the window washer to wear the "latest and greatest" in safety gear. Safety equipment should be fitted to the individual worker so that it matches their physical size, strength and needs. Oversized or undersized gear can lead to tragedy should it come into play during a fall. Safety gear should also be properly selected based upon the job duty, as well. A window washer at 100 feet is likely going to need an entirely different fall protection system than one at 20 feet, for example. Match the right equipment for the right person with the right job.
Inspect safety gear
While today's equipment is as technologically advanced as ever and possesses high levels of durability and reliability, any manufactured device can fail. Safety equipment is not immune to being damaged or wearing out from use.
That makes daily inspections a vital part of the window washer's duties before getting started on the job. Each piece of equipment, including buckles, harnesses, carabiners, ropes and straps, must be visually inspected with the eyes and physically inspected with the hands. Things to look out for include:
Frayed webbing – this may foreshadow a sudden failure and rapid unraveling of the material
Stains – not all stains are problematic, but oils and other chemicals can weaken materials
Bent or distorted metal components – metal fatigue is more likely to occur in components that are bent or stretched beyond original specifications
The pressures of time constraints can lead to carelessness and shortcuts in safe workplace behavior. That's why it is important, even if counterintuitive, to slow down when things speed up on the job. No worker should be forced to compromise their own safety due to the demands placed upon them by others, including supervisors or coworkers. For safety's sake, window washers must be willing to stand up for their right to work at a safe pace. Each washer must also be willing to internalize the belief that they are not being irresponsible by working safely; many times, an individual is their own worst enemy in this situation.
Window washing is a complex occupation; it requires accumulating a considerable amount of knowledge and skill to make for a successful practitioner. Beyond that, there is also a large body of knowledge regarding what works and what doesn't work in the realm of safety measures and equipment.
There are national associations as well as governmental bodies that can provide window washers with training and educational opportunities. Being a thoroughly educated washer is not an option for today's specialist, and employers should take the initiative to require and provide training for their staff.
However, even if an employer fails to lead when it comes to educating their employees about safe practices, the individual window washer must ultimately bear the responsibility for their own safety and learn the things that will keep them alive.