Window-washer tumbles 8 stories to street, breaks one finger

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SEATTLE — A window-washer fell eight stories outside a
downtown Seattle building Thursday morning, but suffered only a broken finger
and some bruising and soreness.

Eduardo L. Castillo, 34, appeared to be in good shape and
was talking as he was being loaded into an ambulance shortly after the 11:20
a.m. fall, said Mike O’Donin, manager of the Broadacre Building.

His most severe injury was a broken finger on his right
hand, according to a Harborview Medical Center spokesman. He was expected to be
released from the hospital Thursday evening.

Castillo, who works for Morris Hansen Enterprises, had been
at work about two hours when he fell from outside an eighth-floor window. He
was caught by his rope when he reached the second-floor level, and the rope
“softened” the impact of his fall into an alley.

Castillo, through a hospital spokesman, declined to talk
about the fall Thursday afternoon.

Craig Castleman, operations manager for Morris Hansen
Enterprises, said the window-cleaning work on the Broadacre Building, which
houses Nordstrom Rack, was a “fairly straightforward job.”

Thursday was windy and rainy, but Castleman said it didn’t
immediately appear that wind was a factor in the fall.

“Believe me, these guys are not going to work if it’s
too windy,” Castleman said.

Window cleaning is a top-down affair, with crews starting by
tying two ropes to anchors on a building’s roof, Castleman said. One rope the
cleaner uses to descend, sitting on a small wooden plank that’s held up with
straps. The other, by means of clips and a lanyard and tension, is supposed to
keep the cleaner from dropping more than 2 or 3 feet.

Castleman said Thursday afternoon that company officials
were still sorting through the evidence and hadn’t yet talked with Castillo.
But they theorized that Castillo, who was still strapped into the harness when
he landed, could have been holding onto the grip that allows him to descend.
Tension on the safety rope must have slowed him down somewhat, Castleman said,
so “he didn’t just free-fall. It was more like a rapid descent.

“It’s terrifying, nonetheless, for the participant
who’s doing the falling.”

If the safety devices hadn’t have slowed him down, Castleman
said, “he would have more serious injuries if he fell eight stories and
was caught up all of a sudden. There would be a lot of pounds of pressure on
his body through the harness.”

Joseph Eisenschmidt said he arrived in the alleyway just
after Castillo’s fall and saw “a guy over here with ropes all around him,
hanging off of the building,” he said.

He said he ran into Nordstrom Rack to call for help, then
returned to the alleyway.

“Last I saw, he was still hanging there and they were
bringing up a back brace,” he said of paramedics.

A handful of Morris Hansen employees at the scene said they
were taking the rest of the day off.

Castillo had worked at Morris Hansen, one of the larger
window-cleaning operations in the area, for about two years, but left a few
years ago. He was rehired in mid-October, Castleman said. On Thursday morning,
he attended one of the company’s bi-weekly safety-training meetings — required
by government safety inspectors — where he heard company officials go over fall
protection, ladder safety and other issues.

Castleman said he can recall just one other fall at the
company since 2002, when he started. That time, the cleaner dropped about 6
feet and didn’t hit the ground. Castleman attributed that one to operator
error. That cleaner, Castleman recalls, held onto the grip used to descend;
when he finally released it, the safety rope caught him.

Morris Hansen was cited twice this year for safety
violations related to fall prevention.

In March, the Washington Department of Labor and Industries
(L&I) cited the company for two violations, both of them labeled serious.
According to the citation, two workers were cleaning glass-topped awnings on a
condo building without safety gear, exposing them to potential falls of 13 to
16 feet. That same day, L&I also cited the company for improper placement
of a ladder.

In May, the company again received a citation, labeled
“repeat serious,” for a safety violation. In this case, a worker did
not use safety gear, exposing him to possible a 14-foot fall.

Penalties totaling $700 were assessed.

Via McClatchy-Tribune News Service.

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