In August 1998, a professional window cleaning company in Washington state was contracted to clean the windows of a four-story medical building. Though the company had cleaned the building’s entrances and first-floor glass several times, the entire building had been cleaned only once before.

One of the workers, who was only 15 years old, was assigned the job of window washer’s helper. The helper was stationed on the roof of the building, assisting the window washers who hung from the building in a boatswain’s chair (the window cleaners carriage that is attached to the roof of the building). With the west half of the building’s windows cleaned, the window cleaners moved to the other side of the building to finish the job.

One of the window washers seated himself in the boatswain’s chair, and then “bounced,” just to make sure it was safe to go. Because the carriage was not secured properly and did not have counterweights attached, the carriage fell to the ground.

Both the window cleaner and the helper had their fall harnesses secured to the carriage. The window washer fell straight down with the carriage; the 15-year-old helper was pulled from the roof by the carriage and landed head-first on the parking lot below. Though medical attention was provided almost immediately after the accident, the helper died at the scene and the window washer suffered multiple severe injuries.

In order to prevent incidents like this, the International Window Cleaning Association (IWCA), with the help of the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), worked for nearly five years to develop safety standards to better ensure the safety of window cleaners. Known as “ANSI/IWCA I-14.1 Window Cleaning Safety,” the document was approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) in October 2001 and establishes some guidance in providing a safer environment for window cleaners.

ANSI/IWCA I-14.1 is not a law, but rather a set of standards and regulations. Companies that clean windows, even occasionally, have no legal obligation to follow the standard, but by doing so, they show a commitment to worker safety. In the event of an accident, the potential for penalties, fines and liability judgement is lessened if a company can show a good-faith effort in implementing procedures that help keep workers safe.

The standard applies to all window-cleaning operations performed at least three stories above the grade, flat roof or any other surface, indoors or out. The standards establish guidelines that apply to building owners and managers as well as window cleaners; contractors must give building managers assurances that they are performing their duties covered by the standard, and vice versa.

Building-owner responsibilities
For example, property owners and managers are to create a “safe work place” and provide written documentation on an annual basis that addresses such items as:

• Verification of the inspection of any permanent window-cleaning equipment installed on rooftops. This might include powered platforms, platform supports, roof anchors, window-cleaner belt anchors or permanent ladders, as well as other equipment.

• Maintenance records and inspection documents for the window-cleaning contractor prior to the use of the equipment.

• All applicable information about the equipment, including the manufacturers of the devices, load ratings, intended use and limitations, and instructions for the window-cleaning contractor .

In many situations, contractors will provide their own transportable equipment. The building owner or manager still is required to inspect the equipment and verify that it can be supported at the point where it is attached to the building. The inspection report must be provided to the contractor.

Contractor responsibilities
Similarly, window-cleaning contractors’ responsibilities to the building owners/managers are termed the “Plan of Service.” The plan includes assurances that:

• Contractors will perform their services in compliance with all local, state, and federal laws, regulations, codes and standards.

• Their workers are trained adequately in the operation of any and all equipment used to perform their duties. This includes verifiable proof of training or certification.

• Any equipment brought to the building by the contractor is designed, maintained and inspected according to industry standards.

Other parts of the standard discuss fall-arrest systems, building anchors, rope-descent systems and other window-cleaning-related items. It is critical that both building owners/managers and window-cleaning contractors check with their local authorities for specific regulations in their particular area.

The new standards may require the hiring of professional inspectors and civil engineers to verify that all certifications and written documentation are supplied and all standards are adhered to. In the case of an accident, the best defense for either party will be written proof that all inspections and certifications have been provided as per the standards regulations.

What this means for BSCs
Many building service contractors outsource their window cleaning needs and allow the window-cleaning contractors to bill and make all arrangements with the client directly. In situations like this, there will probably be few requirements for the BSC to comply with the I-14.1. Of course, it’s in the BSCs best interest to ensure their subcontractors are complying with safety standards, but the actual responsibilities will be directly upon the window-cleaning contractor and the building owner or manager.

However, BSCs who clean windows themselves or bill the clients for the window-cleaning contractors’ services, should be in compliance with the I-14.1 standards.

John McGrath, owner of Scottie’s Building Services in Apex, N.C., always has been proud of his company’s safety record; he believes the I-14.1 is a major step toward ensuring window-cleaning safety. In fact, to help spread the news about the standards, he has conducted seminars at various trade and commercial real estate organizations, helping familiarize their members on the intricacies of the regulations. His company also has helped property owners retrofit their existing roofs to meet the new standards.

McGrath encourages BSCs to make sure they have all the necessary paperwork in place before starting a window- cleaning project. The regulations state that all inspections must be done annually. This means that certifications that are more than one year old may not be honored. The BSC must realize that this applies to their equipment as well.

Training, an important part of I-14.1, is another vital thing for BSCs to remember. McGrath encourages BSCs to train their employees and then retrain them on a continual predetermined schedule. This includes classroom as well as on-the-job training.

He also thinks BSCs that include window cleaning as a major part of their business service should get certified by the International Window Cleaner Certification Institute (IWCCI), which has a program specifically tailored to the new standard. Such certification can provide contractors with the tools needed for compliance, but also can be a selling point for BSCs.

In spite of the seemingly daunting inspection and record-keeping requirements, most building owners and managers are adapting to the new set of standards willingly, McGrath says.

“Although it is more paperwork, it is reducing their overall liability and exposure,” he points out.