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May 6, 2016

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The ‘Spider-men’ of London’s changing skyline

Big Ben CREDIT Lewis Whyld PA Photos

Credit: Lewis Whyld PA Photos


By Stuart Alcock, Site Services Manager at Total Access, part of the Arco family

Did you know that window cleaners for The Shard scrub 11,000 panes of glass over 87 floors, up to 300 metres above the ground? As part of the team who abseiled down Big Ben’s clock face to clean, inspect and repair this iconic structure, I am all too familiar with the risks of working at height. However, did you know that the Work at Height Regulations apply to all work at height, where there is a risk of a fall liable to cause personal injury, and that facilities managers controlling this work have a legal duty to keep workers safe?

Falls from height are the single biggest cause of workplace deaths and one of the main causes of major injury within the workplace. As London’s skyscraper boom sees over 100 new tall buildings proposed for the British capital in the last year, the role of the facilities professional encompasses an ever increasing health and safety responsibility, as they lead a range of site services conducted from height. From gutter cleaning, concrete and joint repairs and vegetation removal, to pest control, building façade cleaning and lift maintenance, facilities managers must ensure work is properly planned, supervised and carried out by competent people. As the Regulations have further tightened, safe practice in window cleaning means all work should be completed at ground level if reasonably practicable.

Total Access

Ensuring that FMs have the knowledge for planning, supervising and managing working at height is imperative. Professional training should cover health and safety and regulatory requirements, selecting and planning staff and equipment, producing work schedules and site supervision.

Just last year, window cleaner Kevin Dolan, 57, plummeted to his death from the third-storey window of a Grade II-listed Pountney Hill House, in central London after his employer failed to ensure safe working conditions[1]. Not wearing a safety harness, Kevin fell to his death through the open floor-to-ceiling window while cleaning the huge glass pane from the inside.

Without doubt, there is definitely no shortage in window cleaning companies in the Capital – my Search Engine identified 4,290,000 results! However, with a legal responsibility for the safety of workers contracted under your employment, FMs must do their research and only work with professionals holding the right accreditation. For jobs requiring rope access or abseiling, FMs should look for companies working to International Rope Access Association (IRATA) guidelines as a minimum standard.

Between two and seven window cleaners are killed every year with an additional 20 to 30 suffering major injuries as a result of falls from ladders[2].  Many more experience minor injuries resulting in days off work for recovery which comes at a high cost to small cleaning businesses and the self-employed. Falling from height is a major contributor to these figures.

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 state that employers and those in control of any work at height activity must ensure that the work is properly planned, supervised and carried out by competent people. This includes using the right type of equipment for working at height. As part of the risk assessment, FMs must avoid work at height where it is reasonably practicable to do so. For FMs keen to tackle the mucky job themselves from the ground, there are now solutions on the market which enable you to work with extended window cleaning equipment up to 20m/65ft safely from ground-level.

The Working at Height 2005 Regulations sets out a simple Hierarchy of Risk Management for managing work at a height:

  • Avoid work at height where this is reasonably practicable;
  • Use work equipment or other measures to prevent falls where you cannot avoid working at height.
  • Where you cannot eliminate the risk of a fall, use work equipment or other measures to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall.

Window cleaners often suffer falls from height due to using portable ladders incorrectly by overreaching, stepping off the ladder and working on a window ledge with no safety equipment or working from excessively long and unsecure ladders. Should facilities managers wish to undertake professional training to enable them to handle some of the lower to ground maintenance responsibilities, it is vital that they work with an approved provider of ladder safety training courses. The HSE has also produced a useful guide to safe use of ladders and stepladders[3]. The safest way to manage working at height responsibilities is to remember this…..if in doubt, call in the experts.





stuart total access

Working to International Rope Access Association (IRATA) Guidelines, Total Access staff worked on some of the UK’s landmark structures and properties including Big Ben and Spinnaker Tower.

Stuart Alcock, Site Services Manager at Total Access


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Safety McSafeFace
Safety McSafeFace
8 years ago

An ‘approved’ ladder trainer? Approved by whom?

8 years ago


hould facilities managers wish to undertake professional training to enable them to handle some of the lower to ground maintenance responsibilities, it is vital that they work with an approved provider of ladder safety training courses


Spider-Men of London and Other News - London Cleaning Services
7 years ago

[…] in London. It has 11,000 panes of glass that need cleaning at up to 300 metres above ground. The facilities managers in charge of places like this have a legal duty to the employees who clean them under the Work at Height regulations, to keep them safe. Falls from height are a leading cause of […]