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Keep Up the Upkeep

Yisrael Rutman

Not only your camp needs maintenance. For anything to stay in good shape, it needs maintenance. And some maintenance is more unusual than others…

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


Photo: Shutterstock.


ike any large structure, skyscrapers need lots of maintenance. Not only keeping the floors and offices clean and the elevators running, but the outsides also need upkeep. Keeping the windows clean is especially tough.

In the old days, men would strap themselves into leather harnesses and hang outside the windows, hundreds of feet above street level (the people down there look like ants!), to clean the windows with a squeegee. But after about 1950, builders began installing windows that were sealed shut, and the cleaners had to somehow do the job from the outside. To solve the problem, special chairs, platforms, or carriages are anchored to the side of the building, which carry the window cleaners up and down and across to access all the windows.

The pay for a skyscraper window cleaner is better than for someone who washes floors or windows in a low-rise. In Toronto, for example, workers earn $15 to $25 per hour. In New York, the top window men and women can reach $29 to $35 per hour.

But it’s not for everyone. First, each applicant has to pass a three-day training program focusing on safety, as they may be working in strong winds, rain, and cold. Then, one in ten job applicants discover they can’t deal with the heights. And there is reason to be afraid. On November 13, 2014, two window cleaners had to be rescued when their platform came loose near the 70th floor of One World Trade Center.

Photo: Shutterstock

Still, there’s been only one high-rise death per year in the last four years in the US according to the International Window Cleaning Association. Considering an annual one and a half million “exposures” — when workers are dangling from the sides of buildings — that’s a good safety record.

The technology of high-rise construction is constantly changing, though. Cleaning, inspection, and repair, inside and outside, will be done more and more by robots and drones. They aren’t afraid of heights, and they don’t go on strike for better wages, either.


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