Abu Dhabi window cleaners without safety harness spark concerns

Abu Dhabi Mall said it enforced tough rules on cleaning companies and cancelled the contract of the company for which the two cleaners worked.

Window cleaners precariously perched on the ledge of Abu Dhabi Mall. Courtesy Ramesh Menon
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ABU DHABI // It was enough to send shivers up the spines of witnesses – two window cleaners disconnecting their safety cables and walking along the thin ledge of a tower on the 13th floor of Abu Dhabi Mall.

It was also enough for the mall’s management to cancel its contract with the cleaning company.

“The process had been going on for more than half an hour,” said Ramesh Menon, who watched from a nearby building on Monday.

“Despite our alerting the mall management, these cleaning staff continued to work in the same way. They walked on the small edges to clean.

"These floors are the empty blocks in the tower, and hot and rainy weather could have weakened the exterior tiles. So the tiles could break and they might slip and fall.

“These cleaners had not connected their cleaning equipment, such as a brush or bucket, so if these tools slipped from their hands they could fall down and harm others.”

Pradeep Kumar, a window cleaner with MBM Caring for Environment, said workers continued to defy rules stating that safety equipment must be used at all times.

"Window cleaners on high-rise buildings still risk their lives," said Mr Kumar, whose company was not involved in the mall incident.

“In fact, they are trained to take the job and asked to wear all safety gear but they still take risks. We are trained for three to four months and assigned jobs in smaller buildings first.

“During my two years as a window cleaner I knew a few people who fell from the top and died due to a lack of safety measures.”

Abu Dhabi Municipality regulations state window cleaners must use either a cradle, or two ropes attached to their safety harnesses and the roof of the building.

“In comparison to cradles, ropes are very safe and comfortable where one can sit and clean,” Mr Kumar said.

“Ropes are tied on top very tightly and you can slide down smoothly, whereas cradles are controlled by machines and sometimes they stop working, get jammed, or fail and suddenly fall.

“We call them a single rope but there are two ropes that support the person. Both are hooked with a person’s safety gear.”

The cleaners also use a device called a window keeper, which can be attached to a window like a suction cup.

Mr Menon said he alerted the mall management when he saw the cleaners on the ledge.

“I called the senior manager of the mall who alerted security of Abu Dhabi Mall, who intervened and immediately stopped them,” he said.

“But within half an hour they had cleaned the windows on three levels. Think how fast they work and how dangerous that is.”

Abu Dhabi Mall said it enforced tough rules on cleaning companies and had cancelled the contract of the company for which the two cleaners worked.

"On receiving the complaints we immediately stopped them and terminated their contracts with the mall as they were not following safety rules," said Shri Kumar, security site manager at Abu Dhabi Mall.

“They had a safety rope but detached it while cleaning, which is against safety rules. Now we will hire another company for the job.”

Abu Dhabi Municipality said it had taken a number of strict measures to enforce building safety.

Companies who break the rules face fines of between Dh10,000 and Dh20,000.

“Scaffolds, cradles, rope access, cranes and platforms used must conform to the local and international safety standards,” the municipality said.