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Façade maintenance - vital first impressions1st of May 2012
Cleaning and maintaining the exteriors of buildings is an important way to improve company image. Dave Rogers, European sales manager for Unger Germany, explains how legislation, technological advances and customer needs are shaping this part of the cleaning sector.
First impressions count – it’s an accepted fact in all walks of life. If you want to sell your house, a tidy front garden and freshly painted front door will help; cordon bleu chefs will often say that we eat with our eyes, so go to great lengths to make their dishes look beautiful; and if you want to get that new job a smart suit will go down better than jeans and a scruffy T-shirt!
The same goes for your company or brand image – so keeping your premises pristine, both inside and out, is crucial. They are the public faces of your organisation, so if they look below par, chances are that both existing and potential new clients will be less than impressed and take their custom elsewhere. A smart, clean façade to your buildings – be they offices, manufacturing facilities, retail outlets or storage depots – presents a professional face to the world, stating that your business really does mean business.
Making sure that effective and regular cleaning regimes are in place is therefore a must, but there are many different issues that need to be taken into consideration when cleaning the façades of buildings. Safety is arguably the most important and there have been significant changes in this area in the last few years.
Legislating for safety
Cleaning and maintaining the exteriors of buildings can often involve the need to work at height. Many older and modern business premises measure more than two storeys high, so jobs such as clearing gutters, bird proofing and roof repairs will require operatives to work at high levels. And wherever height is an issue, safety becomes a top priority.
According to the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) falls from height accounted for 46 fatal accidents at work and around 3,350 major injuries in 2005/2006. One fatality or injury is one too many, and the implementation of safety measures introduced under the Work at Height Regulations 2005, amended by the Work at Height (Amendment) Regulations 2007, have transformed this area. These regulations consolidate previous legislation on working at height and implement European Council Directive 2001/45/EC concerning minimum safety and health requirements for the use of equipment for work at height (the Temporary Work at Height Directive).
One of the key legal requirements of the regulations is for competent, well-trained people to plan, organise, supervise and carry out work at height. The regulations ‘apply to all who work at height where there is a risk of a fall liable to cause personal injury’. They also set out a simple hierarchy for managing and selecting equipment for work at height, stating that duty holders (employers, the self-employed and anyone who supervises the work of others, such as facilities managers) must:
•Avoid work at height where they can
•Use work equipment or other measures to prevent falls where they cannot avoid working at height
•Where they cannot eliminate the risk of a fall, use work equipment or other measures to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall should one occur.
It’s clear that if you do have jobs where working at height is the only option, specialist training will be needed. There are a number of companies that can provide this, and information and advice is also available from associations that promote a safe environment for the operation of specialist equipment. These include the Industrial Rope Access Trade Association (IRATA), the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) for powered equipment, and PASMA, which represents the European mobile access tower industry.
Design and technology provide safe solutions
It’s true that new legislation will always influence how an industry sector evolves, but advances in technology also have a big part to play. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the most obvious and visual manifestation of façade maintenance – window cleaning.
The traditional days of the cheeky chap with ladder, chamois leather and bucket are long gone – thanks to advances in design that have made window cleaning faster, safer and more efficient. Water-fed poles have become the equipment of choice for professional window cleaners, allowing them to clean high buildings and windows safely from the ground, alleviating the need to work
Pure water is used in this type of cleaning because it leaves glass and surfaces spot and streak free, without the need for chemicals. Pure water is, as the name suggests, water in its purest form. To get to this state the water is processed to remove the minerals and impurities that would otherwise dry and lead to spots and streaks. These impurities are known as Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) and are measured in parts per million (ppm) – water is considered pure when its TDS is measured at 0 ppm. The two water purification methods recognised by the cleaning industry are:
•Deionisation (DI) – where the water is filtered through ion exchange resin which attracts and removes 99 per cent or more of the minerals
•Reverse Osmosis (RI) – where the water is passed through a series of membranes and filters which retain and flush away most of the minerals and impurities.
Water-fed poles continue to evolve, incorporating new design features and materials that make these systems even easier to use, with the added bonus that they deliver even better quality results in a fraction of the time, saving companies money too.
The ‘next generation’ water-fed poles provide a better balance between weight and rigidity. Because the poles are lighter it makes the cleaning operative’s job easier and more comfortable, but this reduction in weight does not compromise rigidity, meaning that the poles are still responsive and easy to control, allowing brushes to get right into every corner.
Advances in brush head design, water delivery via multi-jets, angled adapters and pole extensions that allow operatives to clean to heights of up to 65 ft while keeping their feet firmly on the ground, all make this sector of the industry a fast-changing and exciting place to work in.
Assess the risks
As with any cleaning job, site surveys and risk assessments will help to establish the best equipment to deliver the results you require. It can also identify gaps in knowledge or training, and how frequently your façade needs to be cleaned.
The different materials that need to be cleaned must also be taken into consideration. For instance, is it primarily glass (windows) that need to be cleaned, or are there other materials on the exterior of your building that will also need attention, such as metal signage? With an increasing awareness of environmental issues, companies are also thinking about incorporating energy saving into their business activities, and energy creation is also a hot topic.
Solar panels are becoming more and more popular – for residential and business premises – but they need regular cleaning. Exposure to rain water does help to wash off some dirt, but it also adds new dirt particles to the panel. A build up of dirt and soil can reduce the light absorption of solar panels, making them less efficient and effective. Water-fed pole technology is now stepping up to the mark to provide solutions to this particular problem by developing larger brushes with soft bristles specifically designed to clean and prevent damage to solar panels.
With further developments in technology and training in response to market forces and customer needs, façade maintenance and cleaning can only continue to become easier, quicker and more professional.