MNOSHA Ready to Enforce New Standard for Window Washing

It takes effect March 1. Recent compliance inspections found some workers lacked proper safety equipment and some operations didn't comply with manufacturers' guidelines for using scaffolds and lifelines.

The Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration reminded stakeholders that its new safety standard for window washers will take effect March 1, 2012, to increase workers' protection and provide clarity for contractors that perform interior or exterior window washing or building maintenance operations. It applies to workers suspended more than 14 feet above grade and not to work done from grade level or from a ladder.

The standard was enacted after three Minnesota workers died on the job while washing windows from 2009 to 2011 and also because of serious hazards observed by MNOSHA during compliance inspections. It requires employers to have a comprehensive written safety plan and provide employee training, and it includes language about:

  • anchors and anchor points
  • appropriate recordkeeping about employee training and retraining
  • fall protection
  • proper care, use, and inspection of equipment
  • rope descent systems
  • visual inspections of building exteriors before work begins

"This new standard ensures a plan is in place to reduce risks to workers and that systems are in place to identify and control workplace hazards. The goal is to prevent accidents," said Commissioner Ken Peterson of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry.

Since MNOSHA began a local emphasis inspection program for the window-washing and building-maintenance industry in October 2010, it has conducted 34 window washing inspections. One stemmed from a complaint, one from a fatality, and the other 32 were part of the emphasis program, where investigators may stop and conduct an inspection when they observe window washing activity. "During these inspections, MNOSHA investigators found some worksites lacked proper safety equipment for employees cleaning windows. Also, not all employers were complying with existing MNOSHA safety standards or following the manufacturer's guidelines about how to safely use suspension scaffolds and lifelines," according to the agency. It said employers can get information about the new standard at www.dli.mn.gov/MnOsha.asp (click on the "Standards" tab) or by calling MNOSHA Compliance at 651-284-5050.

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