Friday, 7 August 2015

Chinese Window Cleaning Spiderman Most At Risk

"Spidermen" (window cleaners) clean windows outside a high-rise building in Chengdu, capital of southwest China's Sichuan Province.
China's "spidermen" need more care, protection (BEIJING, Xinhua) -- Suspended from one or two ropes only as thick as a man's thumb, they hang like spiders hundreds of meters in the air, cleaning and maintaining the country's skyscrapers. A recent string of tragedies has drawn attention to the need protect China's fearless spidermen, low-tech workers who don't have the superpowers of the movie character and risk their lives every day to make a meager living.

In a highrise in Xi'an, capital of northwest China' s Shaanxi Province in late July, a sudden wind sent two dangling workers swinging. The spidermen, suspended at the 12th and 15th floors when the incident occurred, cried for help and struggled against the wind for more than 20 minutes before they were dashed against the building.

In another case, two window washers on the 91st floor of the 492-meter Shanghai World Financial Center, were injured when the cradle they occupied crashed into the skyscraper in early April. "Wind is our biggest enemy," said Chen Guofu, 40, a window-cleaner who has survived five years of high altitude and risk in Beijing.

He recalled the first time he stepped off the edge of a tall building. With sweaty palms and a vertiginous head, he carried a bucket of soapy water and a squeegee on a pole, with only a suction cup on a string to anchor himself to the window.

"If those two workers in Xi'an could have anchored themselves to the window, the tragedy may not have happened," said Chen who came to Beijing in 2003 from a village of neighboring Hebei Province. He changed jobs many times before he became a spiderman. "I have no choice since I don't have other skills," he said.

Like most spidermen, Chen is one of hundreds of millions migrant workers working in construction or cleaning to support parents and children. The current urbanization drive has brought a forest of city skyscrapers: Spidermen are important to the expansion. Their safety should also be better protected, said Zhai Jialiang, secretary general of Beijing's cleaning industry association,

More than 1,000 workplace deaths are reported each year in the construction industry, and over 60 percent of fatalities are caused by falls from high places and building collapses, said Huang Shengchu, head of National Institute for Occupational Safety under the State Administration of Work Safety.

Zhai Jialiang wants companies to establish complete management mechanisms including pre-job training for workers, regular equipment checks and emergency plans. Currently, there are more than 300 spidermen in Xi'an, fewer than 200 of whom have licenses to allow them to work aloft, said Wang Wenyong, manager of Xi'an Yunfei Property Management Company. The licenses he mentioned are either issued by China Occupational Safety and Health Association or the local work safety department.

"Without licenses, proper training and supervision, many spidermen don't even attach themselves to a backup line," said Chen Guofu. Xinhua reporters searched "high-rise window cleaning" on the Internet and found countless advertisements. Zhai told Xinhua that many are small firms and are poorly regulated. Liang said the government and association should strengthen regular supervision on cleaning and maintenance of highrise, issue clear regulations and punish companies who break the rules.

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