George Gershwin said,
“A skyscraper is at the same time a triumph of the machine and a tremendous emotional experience, almost breath-taking. Not merely its height but its mass and proportions are the result of an emotion, as well as of calculation.”
Of course, some are able to wax poetic about tall buildings and big business in a less positive manner:
Elevator! Going up!
In the gleaming corridors of the 51st floor
The money can be made if you really want some more
The fact that The Clash skewer the high-rise advertising world in this song from their 1979 classic, “London Calling” is irrefutable. But it’s also undeniable that skyscrapers have always figured largely in any story associated with big business—and big money.
What can mar the positivity of the skyscraper experience, however—from both inside and out—is if the windows are dirty.
Enter… the window washers.
Ever wonder about the window washer’s world? High above the streets, able to see in while performing tasks to help those inside look out?
The work environment can be difficult and physically demanding. And it’s definitely not a job for those who are afraid of heights. But one thing is for certain: if you tell someone your job is keeping the windows of high-rise buildings clean and gleaming, they will definitely have questions for you.
DON’T YOU GET SCARED UP THERE?
The fact is that a certain, healthy amount of fear is likely healthy, and just part of the working day. Skyscraper window washer Hernando Melendez said in an interview with The Washington Post that “If you don’t feel scared doing this job, you can make a mistake … This is one of the most dangerous jobs, and you always have to be really awake.”
Or it’s possible an event will happen at work that will definitely wake you up: Juan Lopez told CBS New York about an incident 68 stories up in which his scaffold flipped to nearly vertical. “It was definitely terrifying,” Lopez said. And no doubt a long 90 minutes until firefighters were able to rescue Lopez and his fellow worker.
The biggest danger on the job? Wind. In an interview with The New York Times, window washer Andrew Horton advised that wind while on scaffolding is especially bad. “We have to get down off the scaffolding if the wind is above 25 m.p.h., but even 15 m.p.h. is dangerous,” Horton says.
In an interview with HK Magazine, Hong Kong window washer Tsang Hin-tong recalled just such a story after a suspended platform lost power. “When that happens, if you’re lucky and it’s not a windy day, you can at least try to keep it stable in the air… there is no way we can try to fight the wind with manpower.”
WHAT’S THE BEST PART OF THE JOB?
The short story is being outside, rather than spending the day indoors. The work is done independently, and reports indicate that there’s a certain sense of peace that comes from the high altitude above the streets and the busy world below. The owner of Reflection Windows and A Premier Services, Nate Carr, told Westword: “After working in a corporate setting for many years I just couldn’t take it any longer. An acquaintance turned me on to window cleaning, and within a month I was sold.”
HOW DO YOU PREPARE FOR A JOB LIKE THAT?
Carr stated that “The biggest misconception is that the window cleaning industry is full of unskilled workers and it’s an easy job.” One of Carr’s employees, Chris Trujillo, described window washing as a mix between an art—and rock climbing, saying, “The biggest misconception to me would be that people think cleaning a window is more of a simple task… the high-rise chair work is more like rock climbing, not just dangling from a rope!”
There are several United States organizations that oversee the training and certification of the window cleaning industry, including the International Window Cleaning Association; Industrial Rope Access Trade Association; the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; and International Powered Access Federation.
And this concern with safety is paying off: data from The International Window Cleaning Association shows only one high-rise window cleaner death per year between 2010 and 2014. That is a huge improvement over past years—including 1932, when an average of 1 out of every 200 window washers in New York were killed each year.
Window cleaning. Who knew it was so much more a craft than just a job?
Those who do big business in tall skyscrapers understand the difference a skilled craftsperson can bring to the table. It can make the difference in seeing clearly—or not.
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