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Services & Maintenance: Window Cleaners Get A Safety Net

Written by FM Issue Contributor. Posted in Exteriors, Facility Management, In-Depth Articles, Magazine, Services & Maintenance

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Published on July 15, 2002 with No Comments

By Larry Soehren
Published in the July 2002 issue of Today’s Facility Manager magazine

On October 25, 2001, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) approved the IWCA I-14.1 Window Cleaning Safety draft standard for publication. The document, the result of nearly five years of work by participants of the IWCA I-14 Committee, was made up of both International Window Cleaning Association (IWCA) and BOMA International members. Nonetheless, with the large range of access equipment on the market–such as rope descending systems (RDS), transportable and permanent suspended scaffolds, ladders, and man-lifts–officials have a lot of homework to do in determining what the new standard means for everyone.


Standard I-14.1 applies to all window cleaning operations performed on the inside and outside of any building in which the cleaner is working from a level that is located more than 48 inches above grade, flat roof, or any other surface.

According to the standard, both the facility manager and the window-cleaning contractor are required to exchange written assurances to ensure worker safety and public protection. Property professionals are required to provide documentation to their window-cleaning contractor that covers the following areas of concern:

  • Permanent window-cleaning equipment installed on rooftops–such as powered platforms, platform supports, roof anchors, window cleaner belt anchors, permanent ladders, or any other equipment that may be used during the course of window cleaning–must be inspected and maintained by the building owner, facility manager, or operating agent.
  • A copy of all maintenance records and inspection documents must be provided to the window-cleaning contractor prior to the use of equipment.
  • All applicable information–including the manufacturers of the devices, load ratings, intended use and limitations, and instructions–will also need to be supplied to the window-cleaning contractor.

If a contractor uses his or her own transportable equipment that attaches to the building or uses parts of the building for support, the areas of the building where the equipment is attached must be inspected to verify that they will hold the equipment and loads. A copy of this inspection or verification must be given to the window-cleaning contractor prior to performance of services. Structural or civil engineers may be needed for this type of inspection and verification.

Conversely, the standard requires window cleaning contractors to provide the following written assurances to the building owner, facility professional, or operating agent contracting their services:

  • They will perform their services in compliance with all applicable local, state and federal laws, licensing requirements, regulations, codes, and standards. It is recommended this statement be placed on their proposal or separately on company letterhead.
  • Their workers are adequately trained in operating any or all equipment intended for use. Verifiable training documents or proof of certification should also be presented.
  • Any equipment brought to the building by the contractor is designed, maintained and inspected in accordance with industry standards. It is also recommended that this statement be placed where the contractor can read it.

There are–perhaps not surprisingly–some jurisdictions where the exact regulations laid out in Standard I-14.1 may not apply, such as in some areas of California, New York City, and Ontario. Therefore, it is critical to check with the local jurisdiction for the regulations specific to that region.That said, there are several areas industry professionals must consider when working with window cleaning personnel.

Rooftop Safety And Fall Protection

Falls represent the greatest hazard to cleaners on a daily basis, and many building roofs are not equipped for proper fall protection. In response, the standard states, “Fall protection, perimeter guarding, personal fall arrest systems, or a personal fall restraint system shall be provided for all work areas that expose a cleaner to a fall hazard when approaching within 6′ of an unguarded edge or unguarded skylight.” The exception is when a cleaner is working on a ladder supported at grade or using a window cleaner’s belt.

Options for fall protection include:

  • Perimeter guarding. A parapet, guardrail, or combination of both, not less than 42″ high must be able to support any load a window cleaner using suspended equipment may place on it. If a building has an excessively high parapet, such as one exceeding 6′ in height, provisions must be made to provide fall protection in both directions.
  • Fall restraint systems. These systems are typically designed to prevent falls through what is called a “dog on a leash” type of protection. Normally, this is a permanently installed horizontal line to which workers can attach their harness and lanyard. This prevents workers from getting near the edge of the roof. These systems are often used on large window ledges or when work needs to be performed close to the edge of a roof.
  • Warning line systems. By developing a 6′ danger zone warning line, this system warns cleaners that a fall hazard is nearby. The zone is the distance inboard from the fall hazard. The most common tools used to create a warning line system are safety barricade cones connected by a ribbon or tape and are placed a distance no less than 6′ from the unguarded roof edge or skylight.
  • Fall arrest systems. This type of equipment is used as a secondary component on all suspended window-cleaning operations. Typically, fall arrest systems consist of an anchor point, safety rope, harness, lanyard, and a rope grab. This equipment, which must be put in place the moment a fall occurs, is used to slow the falling worker and safely bring him/her to a complete stop.


Most of what has been described pertains to the use of suspended access equipment that hangs down from the roof of a building. The most critical component in a suspended access equipment system is what the suspension lines and safety lines are attached to on the roof of the building. A building cannot comply with any of the requirements mentioned here and in the I-14.1 standard unless adequate anchor points on the roof are in place or installed.

Currently, adequate roof anchors–which provide fall protection and/or structural support for the actual window cleaning operation–do not exist on a large percentage of buildings in the U.S., because many architects do not appreciate their importance. What was not realized in the design phase is that sections of tall buildings where windows cannot be reached from the ground can only be reached by roof suspension apparatus, using techniques such as davit/sockets, counter weighted outriggers, parapet clamps, or chairing. Virtually all of these require roof anchors.

Buildings must have properly identified anchor points. These can be either roof anchors or other certified anchor points. Buildings without any form of anchorage must be retrofitted with roof anchors. These anchors must be designed by a registered professional engineer and inspected annually by a qualified contractor.

Rope Descent Systems

In some U.S. cities, the most commonly used high-rise façade access technique is RDS. The system employs a tieback anchor or suspension apparatus on the roof, fiber lines, a seat board to which the rope friction descender is attached, and independent vertical lifelines that are tied back on the roof.

The standard recommends the basic safety provisions for an RDS as addressed by OSHA. In addition, it recommends more applicable usage guidelines where none existed before, based upon industry recognized safety concerns. Examples include training, equipment inspection, access and egress, environmental conditions, public safety, rope care, and transportable rigging equipment.

Rope descent is the best means of accessing the building façade, and it is critical that sufficient roof anchors exist and are identified on the plan.

The standard also details responsibilities for building owners, facility professionals, and contractors that were previously cited through OSHA regulation, local law, or civil litigation after accidents. The I-14.1 experience proves that with clear communication and planning, there can be a safer work place for window cleaning operations.

Soehren is president of BOMA International and vice president of Spokane, WA-based Kiemle & Hagood Co.

About FM Issue Contributor

Facility management related issues are often in the news. This monthly feature examines some of the more abstract, non-product concepts and challenges facility managers face in that regard. For more FM Issues, visit this link.

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