An evolution in window cleaning

June Reynolds, group operations director of Nationwide Window Cleaning (NWC), takes a look at the latest trends and developments in window cleaning

No longer can anyone with a bucket and a triple wooden ladder leaving calling cards be successful as a commercial window cleaner. Our profession has come of age. Health & safety, service delivery, operational efficiency and accurate management information are top priorities, bringing many benefits to the window cleaner, service provider and clients.

Window cleaning is technology led. Strict regulation, improved training and full compliance means that it is a far more professional and safer business for everyone. Technology has turned the operator with a ladder, bucket, bottle of Fairy and squeegee into a business where most window and gutter cleaning is now carried out from ground level. When this is impossible, technology takes over with mobile elevated working platforms (MEWPs) – spiders and cherry pickers.

Goodbye to ladders

Today NWC uses ladders as a last resort when absolutely necessary. They are signed in and out of the business with a full audit trail. Water fed pole systems are the favourite method as there are no risks of accidents from working at heights. Today poles can reach 60 foot, that’s 4 or 5 floors high and can be worked safely by one man from a van.

The quality of water used is key. All our vans have water deionising units fitted before being sent out. Deionising removes all chlorine, fluoride and impurities so that the water sprayed on the glass cleans it perfectly first time – something you cannot always appreciate from ground level.

Out go chairs and cradles

Bosun’s Chairs and Cradles, were viewed as ‘the future’ for high rise window cleaning, but they are rapidly going out in favour of abseiling which requires no ugly equipment hanging on to a building’s skyline and no heavy installation and maintenance costs.

The recognised accreditation for abseil in the UK is IRATA (Industrial Rope Access Trade Association) and NWC has been an accredited member company for 3 years. This enables us to work with companies such as CBRE that have incredibly strict abseil policies. We employ 18 abseilers nationally working in teams led by IRATA Level 3 highly qualified men and all are IRATA trained professionals.

Indoor high level cleaning such as atriums is carried out using specialist access machines which vary dependant on the building restrictions, where load bearing weight may be an issue due to the presence of expensive floor tiles or underground car parks. Ultra-light ‘spider’ machines can now reach to c. 42 metres and have many safety and cost advantages.

‘Best practice’ is always our favoured solution and if it means some extra staff training, purchase of equipment or systems that’s OK. FM and property management companies constantly ask about regulations and methodology because they don’t want risks taken by sub-contractors. They expect an effective, competitive window cleaning service that delivers week after week. 100% compliance is essential, because if one service provider fails on a multi-service FM contract it can endanger the whole account.

To provide customers with real-time reassurance we use electronic proof of delivery and integrated CAFM systems with input from all UK operatives. We use a suite of management information as evidence of strict compliance to KPIs and SLAs.

What are the regulations?

We have constantly changing regulations including Working at Heights, HSE Guidelines, British Standards, IRATA (for abseiling) and others. Our strategy is to have the best trained, most committed team in the UK, so all supervisors and managers are trained as a minimum to IOSH accreditation.

All operatives attend monthly refresher days to discuss issues and share information, new working procedures and regulations and ‘topics of the month’. They include winter driving, maintaining standards, health and safety, company developments and new equipment. It is a good forum to raise issues and concerns before they become problems. Now in its second year NWC operates its own bespoke Management Development Programme.

If anything in this article rings alarm bells about your window cleaning consider checking your supplier for shortcuts on health and safety, training, operator qualifications, safety records, the use of deionised water, frequency of cleaning, proof of delivery and annual cost.