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Window Cleaning: Lofty Ambitions
Besides the thrill-seeking (or crazy) acrobats who make a living on the flying trapeze, how many jobs can you name where dangling two, three, four — even dozens — of stories above solid ground is all part of a day’s work? One such profession — and one where a fear of heights is not an option — fits that description well: window cleaning.
Today’s window cleaners are a more sophisticated bunch than they were only a few years ago. With access to better tools, as well as more educational and networking opportunities, the majority of window cleaning professionals know their stuff.
The International Window Cleaning Association (IWCA) has been instrumental in promoting and furthering the professionalism of members of the window cleaning industry. Two years ago, it formed an offshoot group dedicated specifically to education, the International Window Cleaner Certification Institute (IWCCI).
Through the IWCCI, individual window cleaners may achieve certification at four different levels (ground-based, suspended, commercial or residential/route, or a combination of them). The certification, which has only been in existence about a year, requires online and on-the-job training. Currently, there are only 40 certified U.S. window cleaners.
Not for long, though, says Ron Friman, general manager for Expert Window Cleaning, Chicago, and an instructor for one of the training programs.
“There are 80 companies set to be certified,” he says. “For some, it will take two years to reach that many training hours, but month by month, more will become certified.”
Safety Comes First
Window cleaners may flirt with death every day, but for that reason, safety measures and training are the top priority. One employee injury can mean death to a window cleaning operation.
“I’ve heard of companies going out of business because employees had an accident,” says Friman. “Either because they were operating in an unsafe, neglectful way or they didn’t have the proper insurances.”
Friman, who has been in the window cleaning business for 20 years, teaches his safety class four times a year, most recently at the IWCA’s convention in February. The availability of professional training and IWCA’s window cleaning standard are relatively new to the industry.
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI), along with IWCA released the 14.1 Window Cleaning Standard in 2001, after five years of collaboration among a group of 24 manufacturers, window cleaners, building owners and associations. It is now recognized by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as the industry standard, and gives window cleaning companies a recognized standard to follow.
IWCCI’s training takes place year-round. For more, seek www.iwcci.com. IWCA also sponsors various training sessions throughout the year. See www.iwca.org for more information.
For those who don’t receive formal training, on-the-job, continuous education is the key. Window cleaning companies regularly hold safety meetings, and new hires are trained by company veterans.
Patrick Parker, for instance, requires new employees to take it slow. The president of Commercial Window Cleaning, St. Louis, has new employees work with some of the company’s 20-year veterans. He generally assigns them two-story tasks at first, and once they grow comfortable with that, they are able to move up to taller buildings.
Parker also holds monthly safety meetings for employees. Often based on mistakes or incidents that occurred the month before, Parker covers various safety topics — ladder safety, for example.
He also researches accidents that have happened elsewhere, and talks with his employees about how they might have been prevented.
While safety is the No. 1 concern, products are a close second. Today’s window cleaners are much more aware of the innovations available to them to make their jobs easier and safer.
Among the hottest products are water-fed pole systems — long-handled brushes that spray a continuous stream of water for easier, streak-free washing and rinsing. Window cleaners also rave about microfiber technology. Lighter, more ergonomically designed products complete the list.
Window cleaners are more open to trying new products today, says Gary Mauer, a window cleaner who operates a popular industry website, Window-Cleaning.net from Oconomowoc, Wis.
Fifteen years ago, window cleaners were hesitant to try new products, he contends. Now, he says, they’re open to trying anything that will make their jobs easier, whether it’s a lighter alternative, something they can reach with more easily or something that makes the job safer.
Expertise and time are two of the things Parker values in his distributors. Product samples, demonstrations and an environment where distributors work closely with him are also tenets of good relationships.
With safety standards, training programs and literature finally available to them, window cleaners will continue to grow professionally. Still, product demonstrations and safety advice will always be welcome.
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