x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

UAE cleaning firm scraps high-rise cradles after worker deaths

Use of cradles has been suspended since an accident ten days ago and training for staff in rope access is due to start soon.

Two cleaners were trapped in their cradle above Khalifa Street for four hours before it fell to the ground on October 16.
Two cleaners were trapped in their cradle above Khalifa Street for four hours before it fell to the ground on October 16.

DUBAI// A high-rise window cleaning company has stopped using maintenance cradles after two of its workers plunged 15 floors to their death.

Modern Building Maintenance will start training staff in rope access, which industry experts say is safer.

K Sudarshan, 24, and J Raju, 29, were trapped in their cradle above Khalifa Street for four hours before it fell to the ground on October 16. Their bodies were repatriated to the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh on Saturday.

ETA Ascon group, which owns the company, will pay each of the dead men's families Dh105,000 - their salary for the next 24 months, as required by law, and a welfare fund contribution of Dh50,000 - and an additional Dh1,000 a month for three years.

After the deaths Abu Dhabi Municipality said the company should have called Civil Defence when the men were first trapped. The incident has been referred to the courts.

"We are working on alternative methods of window cleaning without using cradles, which involves maintenance by other agencies," a spokesman for ETA Ascon said yesterday.

"We are reviewing procedures and have stopped all window cleaning using cradles since the incident. We have already started sending letters to clients about our new rope access system. It will be implemented in a phased manner, starting right now."

The company tested out a rope system last week on an eight-storey building in Dubai and will soon start a 10-day training course for workers.

Rope access, used at buildings such as the Burj Khalifa and the Burj Al Arab, is a more secure option for window cleaners working at great heights, the spokesman said.

"It is safer than a cradle. The major advantage is that we don't have to depend on equipment provided by another agency. The cleaner goes up and down using his own device and it is under his control. He tests the equipment before using it. There is no machine involved." Cleaning companies rent cradles from maintenance or property-management companies.

Rope access is often used when other methods of reaching the outside of tall buildings, such as cherry pickers or scaffolding, are impractical or too expensive.

"Whoever can learn the rope access will be trained. There is a practical test where they will have to demonstrate the skill of using the rope access, their capability in cleaning windows and rescuing people," the spokesman said.

Rope access is said to be statistically safer than using cradles in window cleaning and its use is increasing.

"It operates on a two rope system," said Amel Vriesman, regional advisory committee chairman of Irata, the International Rope Access Trade Association.

"Each individual is suspended on two independent ropes, a primary and a back-up. Every job is supported with a full rescue scenario, unlike a building maintenance unit which has no back-up system.

"Given the challenging building designs in the UAE, rope access is much safer, faster, hassle free and requires less manpower."

Only nine companies in the UAE are Irata certified, although Mr Vriesman estimates that more than 60 use the system.

"It helps to reduce fatalities but is still dangerous if not carried out by professionals. It needs a certified company with a certified workforce."

Abu Dhabi and Dubai municipalities prefer to deal with companies that have Irata certification but there is no law requiring certification for rope access, Mr Vriesman said.

pkannan@thenational.ae