Staying safe at height

David Saville, Operations Director of Window and High Level Cleaning at Principle Cleaning Services, discusses safety and working at height.

It is a common approach among daily cleaning providers to subcontract window and high level cleaning and maintenance as, rightly, they see this as specialist and needing extra care and attention to detail. This has become more relevant in recent years as security concerns have increased and access to sites for individuals, who usually have to have been screened, has to be planned more carefully.

On the face of it this can be a sensible approach – why not subcontract risk if you're are contracting to a well vetted, qualified and monitored service provider, which has expertise in its field? No reason not to, and this is quite legitimate, but there’s an irony in that outsourcing can mean a loss of control without any reduction in responsibility.

There’s an argument that if very high risk activities have to be carried out then better control can lead to more proactive safety. Window cleaning companies in particular are asked to work to tackle new and varied challenges almost on a continual basis and, arguably, it can be more satisfying and cost effective to tackle this in-house, bringing cultural benefits in terms of safety behaviours and more competitive charging.

It's true that to carry out high level window cleaning tasks in-house, a company must have certain qualities and experienced, qualified and competent personnel including access to independent safety advice. However, once in place, processes can be applied to most situations and companies have little leeway in applying their processes within the law.

Becoming familiar with the safety legislation is the starting point and this will underpin the culture of specialist window cleaning companies. The Health and Safety at Work Act dates back to 1974 and requires employers to provide staff who are suitable for the task they are carrying out to be informed, instructed, supervised and trained. None of this is complicated but it does require resources, forward planning and the ability to adapt when circumstances change, which they often do if there are multiple tasks to be carried out at more than one site on the same day.

The Management Regulations in 1992 were game- changing for many industries, but particularly useful for the window and high level cleaning industry, which

has planning at its core, where written risk assessment became a requirement. Method statements now accompany risk assessments as a matter of course and although once onerous to produce, these documents are now a vital part of any planning process and a great help in improving the visibility of a safety culture.

Further legislation has made it even clearer for employers who carry out tasks at height. The Work at Height Regulations provide a hierarchy of access methods according to risk where abseil must be used only as a last resort. Rescue must also be thought through and documented correctly as well as practised and reviewed. Add the Lifting Operations Regulations (LOLER) and the earlier Provision of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) and there is a huge amount of guidance, which makes it simple for employers to understand and self-deliver these services. On the flip side, it does require some resource and consistency of focus to meet the requirements.

Meeting the legislation can be achieved using in-house staff or by subcontracting, but in both cases the responsibility for safety and service delivery remains the same. What is certain is that if an employer does choose to subcontract, the need to vet and supervise the subcontractor and meet all of the above legislation still remains. 40 | WINDOW CLEANING AND WORKING AT HEIGHT

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