Investigators: A Window Washer’s World
Updated: Thursday, 10 Nov 2011, 11:22 AM CST
Published : Wednesday, 09 Nov 2011, 7:13 PM CST
The center of the city shines only because there are a few workers who will brave any height to keep it that way. There are only about 100 high rise window washers in the Twin Cities area, but four have died since 2007.
Julie Jennings’ son, Jake, is one of those who died in March of 2009. He was working at the Normandale Lakes Office Park in Bloomington and fell after the line tying him to the building he was cleaning slipped from its anchor. Julie feels that her son should have been better trained. She fears for other window washers who are just starting their careers and doesn’t want any other famliy to go through what she has in the last two years. ” It is the worst thing in the world. I will never get over it,” said Julie.
The other 3 fatal accidents:
Dec. 2007: Fidel Sanchez-Flores fell to his death while cleaning ice from the top of the IDS Crystal Court in Minneapolis.
Sept. 2009: Bryan Prairie, 24, fell from a roof at Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park.
June 2011: Ryan Shannon, 25, died after falling from Knollwood Place Apartments in St. Louis Park.
“A hundred people and four deaths in four years — it is an insane number,” said Javier Morillo-Alicea, President of SEIU Local 26. “If you applied that to any other industry it would be a scandal.”
Minnesota OSHA increased the number of inspections on Oct. 1, 2010 due to the deaths. The checks have turned up potentially deadly hazards including:
- Tie backs not being securely fastened to outrigger beams
- Inadequate anchorage systems
- Counterweights not of sufficeient weight
- Washer not protected by a safety belt.
Window Washer Safety Culture in Twin Cities
According to the International Window Cleaning Association, Minnesota has had the highest rate of window washing accidents in the United States since 2007.
This fall, the IWCA came to the Twin Cities, hoping to educate fellow washers on safety issues — but the safety conference was poorly attended. The FOX 9 Investigators called several of the companies that didn’t show up. They said they either didn’t know about it or were too busy to attend.
When asked about training, several window washers told the FOX 9 Investigators they were either trained for only a short amount of time or just had on-the-job training when they began their careers.
Going Over the Wall
FOX 9 Investigator, Trish Van Pilsum wanted to draw attention to the issue of safety, so she found out what it is like to go over the wall — the parapet wall that is.
Jeff Scott, owner of Green Window Cleaning in Madison, Wis., agreed to help Trish experience what window washers go through on a daily basis. He did not train her as he would the cleaners that work for him because that would have taken months of lessons and testing. Instead, he prepared her to repel down the side of a 15-story building in Madison with no cleaning duties. No safety measure was spared. She used a bosun’s chair, work line and safety line.