Bad day at work? Hmm. How about being hit by a gust of wind hundreds of meters (or feet) above the ground? Now your life depends on the thin wire you’re hanging from, and it’s about to come loose. What should you do? Hold on, my friend. We’re coming.
Skyscrapers are impressive. To keep them that way, some fearless folks hang from the world’s tallest rooftops and clean the dirt from their windows. The average height of a skyscraper is about 250 m (820 ft), and standing on a window washing platform that high up is scary.
And some fantastic buildings are much higher, like the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. It’s 828 m (2,717 ft) tall. Any complication at that height could be life-threatening. And surprisingly, there have been people who survived falling off a window washing platform at great heights.
If you want to be one of them, keep watching. How could you fight your fear of heights? How many people die doing this job? And how did one window washer survive a fall from 47 stories in the air?
STEP 1: Yes, look down.
According to a study, one in 20 people may have acrophobia. If you’re going to stand on a scaffold to clean one of the tallest buildings on the planet, experiencing severe anxiety or even a panic attack shouldn’t be one of your career goals. But fortunately, there are some solutions available.
Exposure therapy is one of the best ways to combat this phobia. Expert-assisted exposure to high places will help you feel more confident doing the job. But if you don’t succeed, remember veteran window cleaner Andrew Horton’s quote, “”My job is to clean windows, not look at pedestrians.””
STEP 2: Don’t Touch Your Phone
Along with the specialized training that window cleaners must receive, mentors play a crucial role. Veteran Andrew Horton recalls that, after more than two decades, the man who taught him the trade, Dimitrius Ganadakis, still calls him his student.
But even after training, a skyscraper window washer should not be complacent. Any distraction can be fatal. So cell phones and music devices are not allowed on the scaffolding. The International Window Cleaning Association says that in recent years, thanks to training and safety laws, there has been only one fatality per year in the U.S.
STEP 3: Beware of the Wind
The biggest danger when washing a skyscrapers’ windows is the wind. The workers need to get off the scaffold when the wind reaches 40 km/h (25 mph), but sometimes they get caught in sudden gusts. In 2005, wind in Oklahoma City blew a scaffold out of control. The two window washers onboard were 50 stories high, and the platform kept swinging violently and hitting the building. The window washers were trapped on this wild ride for an hour before they were rescued. Firefighters threw them a rope, and amazingly, they caught it.
STEP 4: Lie on the Platform
In 2007, brothers Alcides and Edgar Moreno were cleaning the windows of a Manhattan skyscraper when it slipped from the anchoring point on the top of the building. The left side cable came off, and Edgar plunged to the ground.
Alcides clung tightly to the platform. But seconds later, it fell 47 stories and landed on the street. Edgar died immediately. But rescuers freed Alcides from the twisted metal of the scaffold, and after three weeks in a coma and nine surgeries, he survived and was able to walk again. But Alcides says he’ll never feel complete again after losing his younger brother.
STEP 5: Slow down
There’s a saying: “it’s not the fall that kills you, but the sudden stop at the end. So you need to slow the fall. Aiming toward a tree would be a good idea. Tree branches will break and absorb much of the energy of the impact. Even falling onto a non-concrete roof could save you.
- “Exposure Therapy And The Fine Art Of Scaring The Sh*T Out Of Yourself On Purpose”. 2017. Esquire.
- “Acrophobia, Or Fear Of Heights: Symptoms, Causes, And Treatment”. 2021. Healthline.
- “Ask a Window Cleaner”. cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com
- “Window Washers Defy Death But Can Start Off Making Just $12 Per Hour”. 2014. NBC News.
- “Two rescued on 12th story”. 2021. denverpost.com.