Window cleaning - best practice for safety

7th of July 2014
Window cleaning - best practice for safety

Darran Yates, operations director for the windows and industrial division of UK cleaning and FM specialist In Depth Managed Services, outlines best practice at one of the country’s largest teaching hospitals.

As one of the UK’s leading teaching hospitals, Leeds General Infirmary has an international reputation for its expertise in a range of specialist services. It brings together many of the country’s leading specialists in caring for patients with complex conditions.

In such a busy healthcare environment, rigorous standards of hygiene are essential and the public, patients, and staff expect to see the sites clean and looking their best, both outside and in.
The façades of the multi-storey buildings are maintained by In Depth Managed Services, which has a dedicated windows and industrial division. This is one of six sites managed through a window cleaning contract with Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.

Working at height regulation

Window cleaning is a skilled trade which has undergone a massive transformation, as windows get bigger, higher and more integral to design. The systems for maintaining high buildings are changing. Indeed, in January this year the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) overhauled its guidance on working at height in a bid to set out, ‘in clear and simple terms what to do and what not to do’.

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 (WAHR) set out the law as it applies in the UK. The regulations have not changed, but it’s important to get working at height right. Falls remain one of the biggest causes of serious workplace injury.

One of the key legal requirements is for competent, well trained people to plan, organise, supervise and carry out work at height. The regulations “apply to all work at height where there is a risk of a fall liable to cause personal injury.”

The need to ensure people understand what the law requires was identified in the independent review of health and safety regulation in the UK, undertaken by Professor Ragnar Löfstedt, and this proposal has been developed through the Red Tape Challenge.

Techniques and training

When it comes to window cleaning it’s in the interests not only of contractors but particularly of clients, too, that staff are qualified to the highest standards. This not only protects them as individuals, it also prevents accidents that could be costly and mar the reputations of both contractor and client. It’s important, too, that the training is not just a one-off, but continues over time.

In Depth’s teams of highly trained cleaning professionals take several weeks to complete a full cycle of window cleaning at the six NHS sites. They use the most up-to-date technology and techniques, including industrial rope access methods, which are frequently the only way of gaining safe access to any high level building, particularly in awkward spaces, which are harder to reach. Powered access platforms and water-fed pole systems are also used. The company’s fleet of ‘reach and wash’ vehicles, operated by expert staff, provide a virtually ladder-less safe and efficient service, upholding strict health, safety and environmental standards.

In Depth’s workforce is trained by a leading provider of training for window cleaners, which provides practical workshops and assessments, leading to certified qualifications. The training includes self-rescue courses, so they can always escape should the machinery malfunction, and operatives also learn how to inspect equipment such as harnesses, as well as escaping from towers, masts and other structures.

The benefits brought by state- of-the-art technology aren’t simply ‘nice to have’ – they are essential tools that enable window cleaning teams to be more efficient, flexible and responsive, whilst adhering to health and safety procedures.

Technology is not only used for the window cleaning processes employed at these sites, but are also in the management of the contract, giving clients online live Management Information (MI).
All vehicles are tracked for remote worker safety and these tools are utilised to ensure efficient scheduling of the window cleaning teams, which also brings fuel efficiency benefits.

In Depth uses the latest mobile android technology, combined with web-based systems, to send, receive and capture information, including photographic evidence and client signatures, in real time. As this quality audit system has been developed in-house, audits can be tailored. The information is used to evaluate, review and, where possible, improve the business systems used.

Industry best practice is providing safer methods of cleaning and maintaining buildings whilst working at height, ensuring the industry meets complex building support requirements with expertise and trained, professional staff.


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