Window Cleaning Surrey
Window cleaning in extreme conditions
Whirlpools In The Sky: Extreme Window Cleaning & The World's Biggest Buildings
Ask a friend or colleague to think about the world’s most dangerous jobs, and in all likelihood they will come back with something like: an army soldier, a volcanologist; maybe even the North Sea trawlermen, who brave hurricane-force winds and waves in the pursuit of a special type of edible prawn.
No one is likely to think of the humble window cleaner. Yet window cleaning at its greatest extent is one of the most extreme jobs in the world. It’s also one that’s likely to get more extreme, and more common, given our obsession of building ever taller skyscrapers. In fact, the 15 biggest skyscrapers standing today were all constructed after 2004, and many more are in development, such as Kingdom Tower (soon to be the world’s biggest) in Saudi Arabia.
Extreme Window Cleaning — A Growing Profession
The construction of the Kingdom Tower is just one of a series of recent muscle flexes in the Arab world. A colossal tower is a symbol of wealth, productivity and intent. Like many rich Arabs have large grass lawns (also a sign of wealth, as it takes a lot of labour to import grass into the desert, mow it and keep it healthy and wet) to mark success, so too is the desire to keep things clean. Cleanliness is the icing on the cake for any status symbol. After all, it is hardly a symbol of prestige going through all the trouble of constructing the world’s biggest skyscraper if it looks filthy, is it?
The Burj Khalifa, the tallest (currently) tower in the world in the United Arab Emirates, has over 24,000 windows to clean. It takes three months to do so, from top to bottom. And, as you might have guessed, by the time the last windows are cleaned, the effort needs to start all over again. Doing so involves sending 36 men over a cliff-edge of nearly 3,000-feet at an altitude where the wind is so volatile that it often generates whirlpools of currents in the sky.
But it is not just the Arab world that is building ever more extreme window cleaning obstacle courses. The city of London is set to increase its production of skyscrapers three-fold in the coming years, presumably because the city is running out of space to expand laterally, and so must go ‘up’ vertically.
The Challenges of Extreme Window Cleaning
There is something humbling about the idea that it still takes a group of men (and women) armed with squeegees, soap, and elbow grease to clean the latest marvels in engineering and construction.
But, unsurprisingly, it can be difficult to find the right people to do it. Cleaning at even one-or-two storey heights can be nauseating for much of the general population. At the heights commanded from skyscrapers, gravity can turn a squeegee into a weapon if dropped; something that could cause serious injury to anyone or any object below.
As for the whirlpools in the sky, at a height of more than 20 storeys, the wind becomes very erratic and unpredictable; prone to sudden changes in velocity and ferocity. Whirlwinds are caused by low pressure areas that ‘tug’ on the buildings, and which are often the reason some buildings sway. A whirlwind like this is often enough to abandon mission and call the window cleaners back in. Although in some of the newer buildings, including the Burj Khalifa, are designed in such a shape that these whirlwinds have trouble forming.
Another challenge is the abundance of high-altitude insects and flies. They often get stuck in the soap and grime and this can really slow down how a window is cleaned.
The Pay Grade And Training of High-Altitude Window Cleaning
Window cleaners who risk their lives and the extreme stress of ascending to such tall heights are paid relatively well, at around £115 a day in the UK. Pay can fluctuate though, on a ‘piecework’ basis (i.e. how much work is actually done on a given shift or day). For maximum earnings, a high-altitude window cleaner generally needs to clean an area of about 80 vertical feet.
It takes about three days of safety training to ready a window cleaner for the hazards involved in working tall heights, and about another two weeks of training to learn the techniques of good window cleaning. A ‘suspension test’ is often necessary for filtering out anyone with doubts or second thoughts. It’s estimated that about 1 in 10 trainees cannot stomach the heights and have to move on to another profession.
Extreme But Is It The Most Dangerous?
It could be said that, given the extremity of the role, extreme window cleaning planning is rightly overcautious. Most injuries and accidents associated with window cleaning involve slipping on chairs or stepladders, falling from overstretched ladders and benches; usually to get to a higher area.
In other words, most accidents — and therefore the most danger — is present in low-key window cleaning jobs. Generally at home or on smaller buildings; operations with little planning or forethought.
Because of the rigorous safety measures that extreme window cleaning entails, it is probably statistically safer to clean the Burj Khalifa than an ordinary home in London. In the UK, the Work at Height Regulations 2005 makes it a legal requirement that all labour that poses a risk of falling from a height should be properly organised, assessed, and planned. This applies to all work, not just window cleaning.
But for low-key jobs, it can be tempting for the ordinary window cleaner to skip certain protocols or for aged equipment to fail. This is all relative. Window cleaning is still very safe, but it is arguably more dangerous (if not less squeamish) than extreme window cleaning.
This article was written by Neil Wright of Pure Freedom, a company that manufactures equipment for professional window cleaners.
Matthew Jarvis. Professional Cleaner for over ten years.
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