Last week, the nation watched in horror as maintenance workers dangled some 40+ stories high from the new World Trade Center building as a result of a scaffolding malfunction.
The workers, who were suspended at times on a 90-degree angle during the frightening ordeal, were not actually window washers. They had been tasked with fixing the scaffolding, which was failing to raise and lower properly earlier in the week.
Thankfully, the workers were safely rescued, but the high-stakes emergency shed a new light on the dangers that window washers face on a daily basis. Many onlookers and industry experts openly questioned the safety protocols in place for those who work at such dizzying heights.
However, the safety director of the International Window Cleaning Association, Stefan Bright, insists there is no reason for worry. While scaffolding does get stuck from time to time, Bright says, “It’s pretty rare that anyone gets killed in one of these permanent platforms.”
An article in the New Yorker even futher, asserting that that a career in window washing is still statistically safer than driving a taxicab in New York City.
Comforting information to the window washer? Not quite.
The high-risk nature of the window-washing industry still requires extra vigilance to ensure a workers’ safety while on a job. It’s not enough to brush off “emergency incidents” by arguing that they are still statistically lower than accidents in other professions.
It’s interesting to note that the same firm involved in the WTC scare was also involved in a 2007 fatal scaffolding accident on 66th street that caused two workers to plunge 47 stories. A Manhattan Supreme Court judge later found the company, Tractel, liable for shoddily installed cables suspending the scaffold from the high-rise roof.
Shouldn’t a closer eye be kept on these companies who have a history of skirting safety protocols? Don’t workers who put their trust in the safety of their scaffolding deserve the highest level of protection on the job? How about the statistics that a fall from extreme heights carries a much lower chance of survival than someone involved in a car accident?
The bottom line is that every worker matters, and in high-risk occupations such as window washing, the utmost attention must be given to the manufacturing and maintenance of scaffolding and related equipment. While accidents can and do happen, workers deserve the peace of mind knowing that their safety is a top priority on each and every job.