What are the risks for window cleaners?

A window cleaner washing the glass in a window.

Every profession comes with its own unique set of risks. This is why getting specialist insurance is so important. But some career paths involve a greater level of risk than others so it’s crucial that you’re clued up on the kinds of hazards you may face in your line of work. That way you can get exactly the right kind of cover for you.

In this blog post, we explore the kind of risks window cleaners contend with in their everyday work.

Is window cleaning dangerous?

Window cleaning can be a high-risk job. However, there are ways you can protect yourself, your clients and members of the public. For example, having the right skills, knowledge, experience and equipment is crucial. Work should also be properly planned and supervised, and window cleaners should discuss projects with clients in advance to identify any additional risks and to prevent working from height unnecessarily. You can also safeguard your livelihood by taking out adequate window cleaners’ insurance.

Window cleaning hazards

However, it doesn’t matter how prepared you are for the job; risks still remain. Even when you have undertaken all the necessary training and invested in all the right access and protective equipment, unfortunately things can go wrong.

Here are the most common risks that window cleaners face:

Working at height

Working at height is one of the most common causes of workplace injuries and fatalities in the UK. Data from RIDDOR shows that this practice was to blame for 8% of all non-fatal injuries at work in 2021/22, and sadly 29 workers lost their lives due to working from height in the same time period.

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 demand that window cleaners only carry out work from height where an alternative approach is not reasonably practicable. This means that you should try to avoid working from height wherever possible. You could do this by using a telescopic pole or cleaning from inside, for example.

Of course, as a window cleaner, there will be times when working at height will be necessary. In these cases, you must always follow the legal requirements for undertaking this task. This includes making sure your means of access is stable and strong enough for the work you’re going to carry out and that guard-rails, toe-boards, barriers and other means of protection are the right size and are safely secured to avoid becoming displaced. You should also ensure that working platforms are strong and rigid enough for their intended use.

Slips and trips

According to the Health and Safety Executive, slips and trips are the most common cause of major injuries at work in the UK. In addition, they often trigger accidents that are attributed to other causes, such as falling from height.

Window cleaners face this hazard on a daily basis. For example, you, a client or member of the public could trip over equipment such as ladders, buckets and telescopic water fed poles or slip on spilt water or cleaning solutions.

If a client or other member of the public were to make a claim against you for a slip or trip, the compensation costs and legal fees associated with defending yourself could have disastrous consequences for your business. That’s why it's so important to have public liability insurance in place.

Repetitive strain injuries

Repetitive strain injury (RSI) can develop if you repeatedly use one part of your body in a certain way. Window cleaners are prone to RSI because they tend to repeatedly use their arms and shoulders in reaching, pushing and pulling motions.

Symptoms of RSI tend to come on gradually and they can include:

● Stiffness
● Tingling
● Numbness
● Pain
● Cramp
● Limited movements
● Swelling

You can take steps to prevent RSI by wearing the right protective equipment, alternating your arms when window cleaning so you’re not always using your dominant side and taking regular breaks.

If you have employees, it’s your responsibility to ensure they get time to take breaks and have been provided with the equipment and training necessary to lower their risk of developing RSI. It’s important to remember that if an employee gets sick or injured as a result of the work they do for you, they could make a claim against you. Having employers’ liability in place offers financial protection in these circumstances.

Property damage

Your job as a window cleaner brings you into contact with members of the public and their property. As a result, no matter how careful you are, there is always a risk that you will inadvertently damage someone’s property during your work.

For example, imagine if your ladder became unsecured and fell onto your client’s car or if you accidentally disturbed some loose concrete around a windowsill with your water-fed pole, causing concrete to fall and smash a commercial client’s shop window. Could you afford the legal fees and compensation costs associated with a property damage claim?

Although you’re not legally obligated to have public liability insurance, it can be invaluable if you’re faced with such a situation.

Having the wrong insurance

If the worst were to happen and you didn’t have the right type of insurance in place, the consequences for your business could be devastating. That’s why it’s so important to consider the risks you face before taking out insurance policies.

For example, it’s no good only having a policy that offers employers’ liability protection if you accidentally injure a member of the public. In this case, you’d need public liability insurance to safeguard you from the financial fallout. Similarly, a professional indemnity insurance policy wouldn’t pay out if your tools are stolen from your van.

At Markel, we understand the risks that window cleaners face. We offer specialist window cleaners’ insurance packages that can be tailored to suit you.

What insurance should window cleaners have?

As a window cleaner, there are a number of different insurance covers you may benefit from. Here are some of the most common policies that window cleaners take out:

● Public liability insurance - this type of cover offers financial protection should you or one of your employees accidentally injure someone or cause property damage during the course of your work.

● Employers’ liability insurance - this policy safeguards you if an employee makes a claim against you over an illness or injury they suffer as a result of their work. It should be noted that the law demands that you have at least £5 million of this type of cover in place if you employ anyone.

● Tools insurance - this insurance will pay out if your window cleaning tools or equipment are stolen, damaged or lost.

● Occupational personal accident insurance - this cover provides compensation if you are unable to earn a living due to an injury you sustain at work or travelling to or from work.

● Professional indemnity insurance - this insurance policy will protect you financially if a client makes a claim against you for negligent service or advice.

There are a number of other policies you may also want to consider, including owned plant insurance, contract works insurance and goods in transit insurance. To find out more about the different types of policies available to you, read our guide to insurance for window cleaners.

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