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Such great heights


Is extreme window cleaning the toughest job in the world? Pure Freedom investigates.


Take a moment to think about the world’s toughest jobs. It’s likely a number of professions flashed across your mind, but we doubt window cleaning was one of them.


However, window cleaning can be very tough. In the most challenging circumstances, it can be one of the most extreme jobs in the world. The 15 biggest skyscrapers in the world have all been constructed after 2004, and with many more planned, it seems window cleaning at extreme heights is here to stay. Gigantic skyscrapers are often a mark of status – keeping them sparkling and clean is a matter of prestige.


The tallest building in the world – the Burj Khalifa – has over 24,000 windows. It takes three months to clean it from top to bottom, but the job is never ending. Once the last windows are cleaned it’s time to start all over again.


The next time you’re in a city, take a look at the skyline. Note all of the glossy, towering buildings with their sparkling windows. Cleaning them is probably the most common extreme job in the world, and the profession is only set to increase. For example, the city of London will see 76 tall buildings join its skyline this year, a three-fold increase from 2018.


The challenges


The most obvious challenge is gravity. There is something humbling about how even the grandest skyscrapers still require ropes, squeegees, soap and elbow grease to get the job done. But the elevation of some of the biggest high-rises and skyscrapers today can be nauseating. And, although


54 | WINDOW CLEANING & WORKING AT HEIGHT


gravity is a predictable force that always points down, it can turn squeegees into projectiles if dropped from high enough – causing serious injury to any unfortunate person or object below.


Less predictable is wind. At heights of more than 20 storeys, small whirlwinds called vortices can form as the wind brushes past the buildings. This in turn can create low pressure areas that ‘tug’ at the buildings. In really bad cases they can make buildings sway in the wind – in such circumstances the job is usually called off temporarily. Thankfully, many modern skyscrapers like the Burj Khalifa are now built in such a way that these vortices cannot form, so there’s more to their funny appearances than just aesthetics.


In the summer months window cleaners also have to endure high-altitude flies and other insects. They act as major irritants and, if nothing else, can get stuck in the soap and grime on the windows.


Great expectations?


Extreme window cleaners are paid relatively well, and the price can fluctuate depending on the amount of work done (on a so-called ‘piecework’ basis). To take home maximum earnings, window cleaners need to clean an area of approximately 80 vertical feet on a typical building.


Window cleaners can expect three straight days of safety training, and then another fortnight of training to learn the skills and the techniques of proper window cleaning. Then there is usually a suspension test, the purpose of which is


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