Liability for Window Washing Injuries
by John Esley, JOBS Building Services, Inc.
LIABILITY, one word that all of us in business understand. In today’s society we must protect ourselves the best we know how. I have taken excerpts from a recent letter, written by attorney Michael Abelson of Washington, D.C., given out at a seminar during the International Window Cleaning Association convention. His letter speaks to owners of window cleaning companies as well as owners/managers of commercial office buildings. This is important, so please read on. If you would like a copy of the complete letter, please contact me and one will be sent to you.
Below are quotes from direct from Mr. Abelson’s letter:
Case One: Mr. Carl McNeal suffered the amputation of two legs and is paralyzed from the chest down after falling twelve stories…He was not afforded the opportunity to safely board the scaffold because the building owner and management had removed the outriggers originally designed by the architect, leaving it up to the window washers and the contractor to figure out how to raise the scaffold to roof level and tie back safety lines. The jury returned a verdict in the amount of $4.5 million against the manufacturer of the wire rope clips…owner and management wisely settled prior to trial.
Case Two: Mr. Lewis fell six stories backwards out of a window…The evidence showed that the building owner failed to provide the window washer with safe access to the window, leaving it up to Lewis and the contractor to try to figure out how to wash the outside part of the window…The jury returned a $6.5 million verdict against the building owner.
Case Three: Mr. Gambrell suffered disabling injuries when he fell nine stories from the roof…Although the roof of the building was originally designed for a two point suspended scaffold system, owner/management decided to cut cost by having the windows washed via a descent control system. Gambrell and the contractor were left to figure out how to tie off and descend from the building. The anchors provided as a tie off (originally designed for two point suspended scaffold) afforded Gambrell no opportunity to test his load before it was too late, i.e., after he was over the side of the building. The case was settled for a confidential (but substantial) amount during jury deliberations.
In all three of these cases, the building owner and/or management failed to provide a safe place to work for the window washers. In short, many building owners and managers seem to be looking for the cheapest bid, disregarding the safety of the worker who is not provided safe access from the roof. Building owners may think that they are insulated from liability simply by hiring an independent contractor to do the work, but they are badly mistaken. The law states that where the building owner and management maintain custody and control of the roof, it is incumbent upon them to provide special precautions for the benefit of the window washers who ultimately place their lives at risk. Simply looking for the cheapest bid without due regard to safety is penny wise and pound foolish. If the permanent installation (anchor) is not being used as intended (as part of a powered platform system) it is to be taken out of service by the building owner.