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Safety measures for High rise façade cleaning

Safety at heights is the basic requirement for the kind of work carried out in the construction industry. This industry is the second largest employer of manpower in India but it also has the highest rate of accidents and deaths, four times more than Europe.

Most of the developed countries have regulations for working on heights and for use of scaffoldings. In cases where there are no regulations, there are strong associations and well defined practices. There are also formal documents like BSI – British Standard, Operators Safety Guide.

In terms of usage of powered access like Scissor Platforms or Boom lifts there is an association called the IPAF (International Powered Access Federation). This federation actually trains and certifies people for using different types of powered access. Unfortunately, such certification is not done in India despite the wide usage of powered access throughout the country.

Currently there are no regulations for working on heights in India. The Indian Penal Code states the Maximum Penalty of Prison for two years in case of an act of negligence. However, this responsibility lies only with the principal employer and not with the actual contractor. In actuality, the responsibility lies with the building owners, contractors, facility management companies and sub contractors. It is imperative to make sure that the labour on site is well trained, certified and has extensive training on the machinery to be used, how to use them, safety features and practices.

In recent times, there are a few companies in India who have started Façade Cleaning. They need to train their cleaners, not just in cleaning skills but in skills of working on heights.

Since window cleaners scale and descend buildings that are more than 50m high, it is imperative that cleaners be medically checked for ailments that could affect their performance. This medical examination needs to be carried out at the time of induction into the company/contract. As per the British Standards, a cleaner working at heights must be medically checked for:

  • Heart disease
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Epilepsy / fits / vertigo
  • Giddiness / difficulty with balance
  • Impaired limb function
  • Alcohol or drug dependence
  • Psychiatric Illness
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes

Training is another aspect that should be imparted before a cleaner is selected for cleaning at heights. IRATA (International Rope Access Training Association) is the sole global trade association in the work-at-height sector; is purely functioning as training and certifying institute for rope scaling. Candidates are trained for a month and certified after a rigorous three-month long practical programme.

A basic rope access kit would typically include the following:

  • Working line: This is the main line with which the worker descends
  • Safety line: The line adjacent to the main line. Worker should be connect to both lines
  • Ascender: Used when the cleaner needs to climb up the rope
  • Back-up device: A back-up rope adjustment device attached to the back-up safety line protects the technician from a fall if the main working line fails or if the technician slips or loses control in any way. The back-up device is intended to lock on to the safety line without causing damage to the rope, and absorbing any shock load that may occur, thus preventing a fall from occurring.
  • Helmet: A helmet is used to provide head protection to the wearer from injury of any type. There are two European standards governing helmets for work at height. Unfortunately in India, helmets are not used for full advantage.
  • Chest harness: A chest harness is used to convert a regular work positioning harness into a fall arrest harness, with a suitable attachment to connect the two. The chest harness is worn around the upper body when working and is essential for ascending the rope. The ascending device is usually attached between the chest harness and the sit harness thus connecting the two harnesses for total body support. This harness will keep the cleaner safe in event of the failure of the rest of the equipment as he is preparing to climb down a building.
  • Chest ascender: An ascender is a rope adjustment device which, when attached to an anchored rope of appropriate type and diameter, locks under load in one direction and slides freely in the opposite direction.
  • Work harness: Used while coming down the building.
  • Descender: A descender is a manually operated, friction inducing, rope adjustment device, which when attached to an anchored rope of appropriate type and diameter, allows the user to achieve a controlled descent and to stop with hands off anywhere on the anchor line. Descenders are normally used in industrial rope access for descending the working line or positioning the operative.

Besides the above features, it is important to install safety anchors on the sides of the buildings before commencing descend for cleaning. Chemically grouted anchors called safety anchors that have been tested for a pullout load of 1000k should be fixed into the RCC. The main and the safety lines go through the two eye holes of the anchors to safeguard against accidents in event of the any single bolt getting unplugged. The anchors need to be retested on an annual basis.

Since labour in India is uneducated and are skilled only at a particular trade, it is important to have trained and educated supervisors who can check the equipment, usage and give safety instructions to workers.

Ideally it is recommended that rope access cleaning should not be carried out on buildings more than 12 floors. For higher or taller buildings, it is recommended to use Cradles or Temporary Platforms which have a full range of safety features and therefore are more reliable and efficient for façade cleaning.

If the lower limit rod at the bottom of the Cradle touches anything like a canopy or the ‘chajja’ of a window, it will stop. Similarly, the upper limit rod at the top of the cradle also forces the cradle to stop in the event of it coming in contact with kind of object. Inside the cradle, there are wheels which reel in the ropes safely. Cradles are also equipped with buffers in front to ensure that the glass on the façade is not damaged. The anti-tilting device ensures that the cradle comes to a halt if it has a tilt of more than 14% angle. Roof rigs are another area of concern. They are very often badly placed and the required counterweights are missing. A roof rig with insufficient counterweight will cause the cradle to collapse.

The latest area of concern for façade cleaning companies is metal roofs. Airports and factories have metal roofs and regular cleaning of such roofs is a challenging task. Fall prevention systems are a must to ensure that the worker/cleaner does not fall of the edge of the roof at any given point. He is anchored with a rope to a certain point on the roof itself. Roof top walkways are also a solution for walking across metal roofs.

To conclude, it is a must to include some safety standards within the organisation, if such safety regulations are not drafted by the industry. Ensuring employee safety at all times ensures employee loyalty.

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