High-rise window cleaning requires many particular skills and specific equipment to complete a job safely. With hours spent at training courses, entire companies dedicated to the high-rise industry and its need for specific gear, it seems like every stone has been overturned, and every idea explored as to how to make the practice of high-rise window cleaning safe. So, it comes as a bit of a shock that many high-rise window cleaners don’t see the benefits of wearing a helmet while others decide it’s too risky and start work anyway.
Now, if we may, let’s backtrack for a minute. Why is it that these men and women with such extensive knowledge of safety practices and guidelines choose not to wear a helmet? One answer is simple, preference. The helmet is the problem many times. The window cleaner might find that the helmet obstructs his or her view, which arguably puts them in more immediate danger than that of not wearing a helmet. To this, we agree, certain helmets can be troublesome and slip or not fit correctly, causing that helmet to slide down and obstruct your view. While those helmets won’t work, there are other options, and something will work. But if finding the exact helmet to fit you might be a bit of a hassle, then why bother? So glad you asked.
Most people think that the primary purpose of your helmet is to protect your head in case of a fall. While it will undoubtedly help with that, you’ll usually be at too great a height for it to make a difference. So then, what is it? Many variables play a factor in high-rise window cleaning. One that can’t be ignored is Mother Nature. Wind becomes a force to reckon with the higher up you go. Though you should check the weather ahead of time, strong gusts of wind can be an element of surprise that could leave you swinging uncontrollably. During the swing, it’s easy to hit your head on the building or other obstructions. Helmets, in this situation, can mean the difference between a crazy ride and a rescue situation.
Employees working in areas where there is a possible danger of head injury from impact, or from falling or flying objects, or from electrical shock and burns, shall be protected by protective helmets1926.100(a)
Another variable that plays a significant role in high-rise window cleaning, and all work at height practices, is physics, more specifically, gravity. Beyond wind, what helmets will protect you from is falling objects. The typical high-rise window cleaning crew consists of multiple workers, all working on different drops (by the way, you shouldn’t be working alone in case of a rescue situation!). The trouble is when the highest window cleaner above all the others, gets swept up by the wind, and in the chaotic turbulence, lets go of his or her squeegee. The other window cleaners below are now in jeopardy of getting struck by a flying squeegee. Dropped objects are a common cause of workplace injury. You should tether your tools to mitigate this hazard, but you should also consider having helmets to protect yourself. One could come up with a million different scenarios where a helmet would be an essential piece of equipment to be wearing.
We know what you’re thinking to yourselves, “but is it required?” Here’s what OSHA says on the topic: “Employees working in areas where there is a possible danger of head injury from impact, or from falling or flying objects, or from electrical shock and burns, shall be protected by protective helmets” (1926.100(a)). This is far from a clear directive for high-rise window cleaners, but could easily be interpreted to apply. In the same section OSHA also stipulates that the helmet ought to meet ANSI Z89.1 or be at least as effective (1926.100(b)).
What we are saying is that although it may or may not be required, depending on how you read the statement, it is your responsibility as a high-rise window cleaner to know your best safety options and proceed accordingly. There are so many helmet options out on the market, and there is a helmet for you, even if you haven’t found it yet.