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Workplace safety: The hazards of washing skyscraper windows

Window washers in New York have some of the scariest jobs there are. Nevertheless, the skyscraper window washers seem quite happy to be working on scaffolds that are suspended hundreds of feet off the ground. The city's department of labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have strict regulations when it comes to workplace safety for window washers. It starts with thorough inspections of the scaffold and its rope-descent systems before the start of any job.

Every window washer must receive specialized training, and he or she must be attached to a lifeline that will arrest a fall, and it must meet specific standards. The tools the workers use must have lanyards that are tied onto the cart to protect people below from being struck by falling objects. Furthermore, no work can take place on windy days, nor during extreme weather conditions.

Despite all the safety precautions, incidents occur when rigging ropes twist or the motor that moves the scaffold up and down malfunctions. Two workers were recently rescued from the 45th floor of a Tribeca building, and some workers faced similar circumstances while cleaning the 50th-floor windows of a Midtown building last November. These instances had happy endings, but one worker died last August when the hook that supported his safety harness broke, causing him to fall six floors to his death.

Safety firms are working on finding robotic solutions to minimize human risk. In the meantime, New York window washers whose workplace safety is compromised will have to rely on the workers' compensation insurance program to have their backs. Injured workers can file benefits claims for coverage of medical expenses and lost wages. Legal resources are available to provide guidance and support.

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