Cleaning some of the world’s tallest buildings is not for the faint of heart. The dizzying heights and unpredictable wind can make the best of us cower like a dog that just saw you pull out the vacuum cleaner. It takes a steady hand, as well as a steady mind to overcome some of the thoughts you might face when hundreds of stories above the ground. The reward for taking on this challenge is an unobstructed view of the city and a blissful existence hundreds of metres above the ground.
Looking up from the ground, the job might seem terrifying and dangerous. But the fact of the matter is that the job is very safe. The chances of injury are far greater in driving your vehicle down below than being suspended in the air with a bucket and a squeegee.
Knowing something is safe, however, doesn’t remove how mentally difficult it can be to step over the ledge and trust your harness to prevent you from plunging. High rise window cleaners will tell you that even after years (or decades) on the job, the fear doesn’t disappear. Fear is part of what keeps them alert and concentrated on avoiding careless mistakes, and fear is part of what keeps them coming back.
The wind is a very important factor when dangling from the side of some of the world’s tallest buildings. Swaying from side to side not only makes it difficult to keep a steady hand, but the risk of being bounced off the side of the building becomes all too real. Not to mention, keeping the water on the glass instead of spraying it into your colleague’s face is easier said than done. When the wind speeds gust around 25km/h, it becomes too difficult and dangerous to work.
Cleaning the windows of some of the tallest buildings in the world, like the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, takes a team of thirty-six window cleaners about three months to finish the 24,000 windows. And when the job is done, they go right back up to the top and start again.
It begs the question, why would anyone want to do this for a living? Aside from the low barrier to entry that window cleaning has, the job provides an element of freedom rarely found in the workforce. Being suspended in air, far away from the hustle and bustle of life below, the tranquillity and solitude are what most window cleaners love. For introspective cleaners, it’s a time to reflect and ponder. For others, it’s an escape from the demands of life below. The earnings of a window cleaner are adequate, but nothing extraordinary. For those that can brave the elements and learn to enjoy tiptoeing over the edge of the world’s tallest structures, regular jobs become impossibly mundane.
When they do return to the safety of the solid ground, you can be sure that someone will chime in with a window cleaner’s four most hated words – “you missed a spot”.