Professional window cleaning can be a very precarious occupation, especially given the fact that falls from height are one of the biggest causes of workplace deaths in the UK. In addition to several fatalities, many more window cleaners suffer serious injury every year as the result of falling and you don’t even need to fall from a great height to be severely injured with many accidents occurring as the result of a fall from less than head height.
Principal Causes of Falls
Most falls suffered by professional window cleaners are from ladders which is hardly surprising seeing that they are the most commonly used implement for a window cleaner to ascend although cradles and other types of mobile elevating platforms can often be used too. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) publishes a guide on the safe use of ladders and stepladders which is aimed at all people who might use a ladder from time to time, not just window cleaners. The predominant causes of a fall from a ladder are the window cleaner over-reaching, poorly maintained or old worn-out ladders, the user slipping off the rungs and the ladder itself slipping and falling. A careless approach in the use of ladders can sometimes be blamed which is why all window cleaners should be aware of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and ensure that they are fully compliant with them.
Other Medical Factors
In addition to faulty or poorly maintained ladders, a careless approach to the task or a simple freak accident, there are other medical conditions which should also be taken into consideration when thinking of using a ladder. It’s recommended that people who should refrain from using a ladder at any time include those who may suffer from epilepsy, psychiatric disorders, heart and lung conditions, problems with joint movements, those who misuse alcohol and/or drugs and those who may be on medication temporarily which might induce dizziness or drowsiness.
Ladder Safety Tips
Whether you’re a self-employed window cleaner or working for a larger company, you should ensure that any ladder you are using cannot slip and will not move when it’s stepped on. It should be of sufficient length to do the required job safely and without the need for any over-stretching and, where possible, handholds should be available to enable the user to have 3 points of contact. It is also imperative that you maintain a ladder and to check it for defects regularly. Unlike certain other equipment, if there are any signs of defects and your ladder is showing signs of wear and tear, it is usually advisable to get rid of it and buy a new one as opposed to having a ladder repaired; any repair could impair the strength of the ladder. It’s far better to buy a new one than to run the risk of a repaired one giving way whilst you’re high up on it as that could prove fatal.
The HSE publish a number of very useful factsheets relating to window cleaning safety and the equipment associated with it including advice on the safe use of cradles and other mobile elevating work platforms, such as ‘cherry pickers’ and the use of ropes and swings as well as ladders. It also publishes factsheets containing the health and safety regulations that are relevant to this type of work.