Slips, trips and falls are the most common workplace accidents. Years ago we were sold the idea of Water Fed Pole and Pure Water window cleaning technology as the 100% health & safety compliant method of cleaning windows. And it still is, but choosing to clean windows with water fed poles does not make you bullet proof, unfortunately. Here is my experience….
Commercial window cleaning companies in the UK have pretty much got Health & Safety imprinted as laws force them to look at Health & Safety at work and clients force the same under their own due diligence.
Residential window cleaners tend not to be too concerned with Health & Safety with some still maintaining traditional work on ladders as the bomb. Whichever way you choose to clean windows, considering your own H&S and the H&S of others around you must be your first consideration. The idea is that you move forward after evaluating your work risks that may include such things as assessing unattended spills, wet floors, exposed cords, unstable work surfaces, uneven floors, loose rugs and cluttered areas to name a few. Posting signs and cones identifying hazards in areas that are being cleaned or that have recently been cleaned, and cordon off complete areas if required, would be the first obvious action. Considering the height of your water fed pole and the area that it would fall into should the tech loose control is an example of a risk least likely to be considered by window cleaners, but so important.
Spring is around the corner, the last week of February. My company cleans both commercial and residential work. Some of our residential work are large compact areas.
In one area, I decided to work with my staff. I had not cleaned a single window here for over three years, yet I found myself being mobbed by the customer’s eager and pleased to see me. Receiving hugs, questions on how my family was doing and jokes about me sitting in my seemingly ivory tower. It was a great feeling.
Unknown to me that feeling would soon turn to dread.
I was cleaning a house here and there but because there was a team of us and I was acting as the lead that day, keeping the paperwork straight, handling any money/cheques and writing out calling cards, I found I was able to look around more at the efficiency of my staff. Which is always a bonus.
The first thing I noticed was that over the years they had gathered the knowledge of all the customer details, desires and wants and were able to provide a quality job with a smile and great customer service. I loved the interaction they had in my place and my customers saw them as an extension of me. Good customer loyalty extends to the customer knowing that you are the boss and the staff are staff. Regardless of the staff good customer loyalty means they want you in charge. After all I remember nearly a decade ago doing this all on my own.
I felt like Undercover Boss that day ( except my staff all knew who I was, and I was not in disguise) as I spoke to my customers about my staff and began to take a closer look at each house they cleaned as they moved up the street. I could see where our service was and where improvements may or may not be be needed. I believe in congratulating staff when you find that work is carried out just as you would expect it or customer service is demonstrated well.
But then I started to pick up things that did need changing. Because some properties were complete streets of houses I noticed the water hose pipes running from the van would stretch for 100’s of meters with very little sign of hazard cones down the street.
Whereas I marveled at the ingenuous way one of my staff had come up with in order to efficiently drag this hose down the street to the next batch of properties by hooking it loosely to the Truk Rax system (ladder rack) and curb crawling his way up to position, some how as an employer I knew that this had to change.
Why do most residential window cleaners do not even bother with H&S? Well, 1) The law confuses them. HSE say that you do not need to have a company H&S system if you have less than 5 employees. IMO you need to have this from the first day of business. Get into the habit, especially if you want to grow your business. 2) They work on their own. They think they are the best judge and rarely think about how they work and how it might affect them or just as importantly the people around them.
Back on the street, I was already thinking I need to change the way we work. On this day we had our apprentice working with our team, Dominik.
Dominik is 16 and enjoying window cleaning as a job very much. He started back in January so had only been at it for 7 weeks, but already he was proving to be a dab hand at using the water fed pole, not so skilled with squeegee work.
Dominik had his CLX pole in one hand and dragging his hose in the other as he made his way around the back of a property. At this very same time I was knocking on the customer’s door for payment (if they were not in we would write out a ticket and pop it through the letterbox). There was no answer and so I turned. As I turned I spotted Dominik’s hose sliding pass like a huge grass snake. I began to step over his hosepipe when I realized that this hose had a massive loop in it. Everything happened within seconds. As Dominik pulled, my foot got tangled into the loop and I started to fall forward. The pain was instant as my knee bone crushed against the concrete.
I was rushed to hospital and operated on the next day. In an instant I was facing a min of 3 to 4 months off work and up to a year in recovery.
I consider myself lucky as I have employees to carry out my work. But what if you work on your own or you have just one employee, maybe that employee does not drive and relies on you heavily. Either way the impact on your health and well-being is obvious, the impact of not being able to clean your residential properties can be devastating.
So how will I change things?
This was a no brainer for me. I had a lot of thinking time from my hospital bed. I knew that to fix this risk I would have to introduce trolley systems for all work in areas where the public had access. It was me this time, what if it was one of my employees or a member of the public!
But then this idea threw up a paradox. Am I just shifting one risk to another? Manual handling is a big risk in the workplace and so the thought of staff lifting heavy trolley systems in and out of vans was a little daunting to consider. It was not until talking to a good friend of mine, who owns a successful window cleaning business in Sheffield, that the suggestion was made to use a special pump that could not only fill up a trolley system at 40L per min, but it could also do the opposite and empty the trolley. My manual handling risk evaporated.
It just goes to show, that we are all still learning. As I write this to you now I am still off work. The last hospital appointment was last week. The doctor reckons I can be back window cleaning within the next month and that it may take up to a year before I get the full range of motion in my knee, if I get 100% ROM.
By looking at how we work and considering the risks my experience demonstrates how things can go horribly wrong and cost a window cleaner a whole lot more than just broken bones.