Open air life suits high-rise cleaner

DAILY GRIND Pete Howcroft ad­mits he’s not a huge fan of heights, but it hasn’t stopped him climb­ing to the top of the high-rise win­dow clean­ing in­dus­try. Re­porter Jess Lee talks to him about ab­seil­ing down sky­scrapers for a liv­ing.

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS -

News crews were there to cap­ture the mo­ment Pete Howcroft and his win­dow-clean­ing team first ab­seiled over the side of a high-rise build­ing.

It may not be break­ing news any­more but the sight still makes peo­ple stop and stare decades later.

His New­ton-based team now tack­les Auck­land sky­scrapers up to 40 storeys high.

It’s a surreal feel­ing hang­ing off the edge of a build­ing, Howcroft says.

‘‘The very first build­ing that I ever worked on, hear­ing all of the noises of the traf­fic be­low – it felt re­ally strange.

‘‘I’ll be hon­est I don’t con­sider my­self good at heights but ab­seil­ing down the first time was re­ally ex­hil­a­rat­ing.’’

The 57-year-old has built his company Off The Ledge from the ground up.

He spent his early 20s at the beach chas­ing waves rather than a ca­reer, be­fore fi­nally swap­ping the surf for a squeegee at the age of 24.

A small start-up business clean­ing shopfronts and bun­ga­low win­dows in Wellington gave Howcroft his first break in the in­dus­try.

He even­tu­ally sold up in search of taller and more chal­leng­ing pas­tures.

But Howcroft says that safety stan­dards in the high-rise win­dow­clean­ing world were not as strin­gently en­forced in the 1980s as they are now.

‘‘We had some quite stun­ning near-misses back in the day. If there was a ledge you would grab your bucket, open a win­dow and jump out onto it – no mat­ter how nar­row or slip­pery it was,’’ he says.

‘‘Some­times there were no bolts to clip onto so you’d hold onto a win­dow while walk­ing around the out­side hop­ing not to die – it was like the equiv­a­lent of free climb­ing.’’

When Howcroft spot­ted a photo of a man ab­seil­ing down a build­ing in an Amer­i­can mag­a­zine in the late 1980s he was hooked on the idea. It trans­formed his business overnight.

‘‘We had three days of quite sketchy train­ing and had to learn from a se­ries of close en­coun­ters.’’

High-rise win­dow­clean­ers must iden­tify po­ten­tial haz­ards that could cut their ropes, as well as faulty struc­tural an­chors and strong wind cur­rents.

‘‘To­day in­dus­try

the is so whole well- reg­u­lated and con­trolled that there’s no rea­son for any ac­ci­dents to hap­pen,’’ Howcroft says.

He even­tu­ally sold up the Wellington business and moved to Auck­land.

Auck­land’s calmer weather makes for bet­ter work­ing con­di­tions than the cap­i­tal but it’s still no easy feat.

The two tow­ers at 205 Queen St, stand­ing at 17 and 22 storeys high, get strong wind cur­rents even on a calm day.

‘‘You can get half­way down and you feel like you’ve ab­seiled into some sort of desert storm.’’

The city’s his­toric ar­chi­tec­ture makes for a more in­ter­est­ing day at the of­fice than mod­ern sky­scrapers, Howcroft says.

‘‘We’ve grown to love the very old, turn-of-the­cen­tury ar­chi­tec­ture be­cause there’s such a trick to get­ting around and it’s like prob­lem­solv­ing – it’s a lot of fun.

‘‘Usu­ally the big 30-storey tow­ers are quite bor­ing be­cause it’s all very rou­tine.’’

De­spite the job’s chal­lenges Howcroft would never want to swap swing­ing in the open air for a job inside an of­fice tower.

High life: Pete Howcroft was one of the first to start highrise ab­seil­ing win­dow-clean­ing in New Zealand.

Tall or­der: A worker from Pete Howcroft’s Auck­land highrise ab­seil ser­vices company Off The Ledge gets on with the job.

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