x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Abu Dhabi cleaners trapped for four hours before plunging to death

The two window cleaners were trapped on a platform for four hours before plunging 15 floors to their deaths, raising questions about safety regulations in Abu Dhabi.

A bright yellow hard hat is among the remnants of the broken platform that killed two window cleaners. Delores Johnson / The National.
A bright yellow hard hat is among the remnants of the broken platform that killed two window cleaners. Delores Johnson / The National.

ABU DHABI // Two window cleaners were trapped on a maintenance cradle 15 floors above Khalifa Street for four hours before it collapsed, killing them both.

A technician was called to the scene on Tuesday morning when the motor controlling the cradle malfunctioned. The two men plunged to the ground about 3pm when the metal cradle cords gave way at roof level.

Their employer "should have called Civil Defence when they called the technician and recognised there was a problem. Those men should never have been up there so long," municipality health and safety chief Abdulaziz Zurub said. Police said the incident had been referred to the courts.

Mr Zurub said cleaning companies usually rent their cradles from maintenance companies. The municipality's health and safety department set up a special section to oversee maintenance companies but it is still under development.

"The problem is how to ensure the cleaning company selects a maintenance company that uses the safety equipment according to our procedures," Mr Zurub said.

The cleaners' employer, Modern Building Maintenance, said the men were harnessed but could not say if they were harnessed independently to the building. This lifeline is required so that if the cradle falls, the men do not.

When the safety system is intact, cradles can hang from one rope. Various bodies are responsible for cradle maintenance and operation.

The cradle was provided by the building owner, and the cleaners' employer said it did not know when it was last inspected.

Abu Dhabi Municipality approves third-party companies who provide certifications of inspection on equipment for maintenance companies. The equipment must be checked every six months or annually, depending on its type.

Cradle makers recommend inspections every three months.

"It's like maintaining your car," said Theo Van Der Linde, the operations manager for Cox Gomyl, an international building maintenance company in Abu Dhabi. "If you don't maintain your car you'll have problems. If you maintain your equipment properly then it will last longer and it's safer."

The deaths come a week after two window cleaners had to be rescued when the rope supporting their platform snapped while they were working outside the 15th floor of a building in the capital.

Police and Civil Defence secured the platform, at a building on Salam Street, before helping the two Asian men to safety down a rescue ladder.

More such accidents are inevitable with the construction of more high-rise buildings unless maintenance companies are controlled and security measures enforced, manufacturers and inspectors said.

"When the regulations and rules are not enforced it can increase the accident rate," said Elumalai Jagadeesan, the operations manager for Bureau Veritas, a company that carries out cradle inspections in Abu Dhabi.

"There are many companies that are not being approved by Abu Dhabi Municipality. A qualified, competent person must inspect and do the certification."

Other companies avoid maintenance entirely, he said. "It could be a monetary thing, it could be that people don't have the money to do it."

The municipality will fully oversee maintenance companies "very, very soon", Mr Zurub said.

"I think that would be a good thing, to ensure that the maintenance companies are competent to do what they need to do," said Mr Van Der Linde. "You have people servicing the building maintenance units who are not specialists.

"Preventive maintenance is very important and I think much more care could be taken by selecting the companies that do the maintenance."

The government should revisit regulations annually, Mr Jagadeesan said. "Every year new technology and new solutions are coming into the market," he said.

"The biggest priority, above anything else, is human life."