Window Cleaner Repetitive Strain Injury

When it comes to health and safety it is something you may overlook in your job on a daily basis, but when working in a risk filled industry like commercial window cleaning, it is very important to make sure health and safety is prioritised at all times. Window cleaner repetitive strain injury is something that is very common amongst busy and hard working window cleaners, and is something that shouldn’t be ignored should you experience symptoms of it. In this post we will be sharing some information on Repetitive Strain Injury, and how it has become one of the major causes of work related ill health in the window cleaning trade.

The condition has become more and more common amongst window cleaners in the last 50 years, effecting the hand, wrists, arms, neck and shoulders. The injury not only effects your health, due to the long term effects of RSI, you are likely to see a loss of earnings, because of the lack of physical capacity to complete contracts whilst suffering. 

Window cleaners all over the world are experiencing the debilitating effects of RSI, and has been prevalent in the window cleaning industry for a long time. There has been much research and desperation to find cures and preventatives to improve the recovery rate of this condition and ways to prevent the condition from returning. 

RSI or Repetitive Strain Injury is a wider term that covers a range of nervous system and musculoskeletal injuries caused by repetitive tasks such as those encountered in window cleaning.

Examples include movements which are forceful, causing vibrations or compression and sustained awkward postures and positioning. Conditions which might be considered as part of a window cleaner repetitive strain injury include window cleaner tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow and thoracic outlet syndrome.

These conditions can also be known as Upper Limb Disorders (ULD), affecting the joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons in the upper limbs.

It is thought to be caused by repetitive actions, movements with a fixed posture, exertion, and poor ergonomic techniques. Symptoms are varied and include (especially in the upper body) sore extremities, tingling, weakness and discomfort.

The condition is characterised by its chronicity and though it is brought on by the tasks and movements involved in window cleaning, its effects may start to be felt in other activities and areas of life. If severe, RSI can permanently disable, leading to loss of livelihood and therefore should not be overlooked.

Window cleaner’s shoulder is something you will hear a lot around your window cleaning peers and colleagues, and is a common trade nickname for RSI. Most window cleaners with RSI will complain of similar injuries thanks to consistent technique and method repetition that causes similar joint problems amongst window cleaners.

The most common complained symptoms of RSI in window cleaners are: 

  • Pain in wrists and elbows
  • Back and neck pain
  • Numbness and tingling in fingertips
  • Joint and tendon swelling

The contributing factors that make window cleaners susceptible to this kind of injury include:

Working outdoors – Extremes of temperature are known to increase the risk of developing a repetitive strain injury. Year-round working with little or no hand protection and water can precipitate musculoskeletal and nerve trauma.

Time pressure – Where jobs have to be completed thoroughly and quickly, care with posture and technique may be neglected.

Working at extremes of height – Completing jobs where there is a need to reach beyond one’s height or crouch down can increase the risk of strain injuries.

Lots of arm and shoulder movement – The reaching, pulling and pushing movements at the shoulder can cause damage over time to many window cleaners. A number in the profession report shoulder and arm pain which is occupational and strain injury can build-up around the shoulder joint where it is continually in use.

Posture-based  Water fed pole window cleaning is particularly problematic. The fixed posture with the repetitive movement of the pole above height can precipitate an RSI.

Poor technique– Self-trained cleaners may be affected by using techniques that only worsen the pressure, posture and movement problems which cause RSI.

For some window cleaners, it is only when an injury occurs that they will reflect on their cleaning techniques and seek to improve them.

Excessive pressure or grip on tools – Squeegees, rags and poles may be being habitually gripped too tightly or used with excessive pressure. Over multiple uses, damage can occur to the hands and wrists.

If these symptoms resonate with you it is important to take action and seek medical attention immediately, whilst there is no cure there are certainly ways you can prevent RSI taking hold of your life, body and career as a window cleaner, it is important to improve the condition before it causes irreparable damage.