This article originally appeared in "American Window Cleaner"
magazine, January/February 1999.
Insurance, Safety, & Risk Management for Window Cleaners
by B. P. Huettner
Everyone in business faces risks - the risk of damages, the risk
of large medical bills, even the risk of being sued. This article
will address two ways to manage your risk: purchasing appropriate
insurance and reducing risk through safety management.
One way to reduce financial risk is to purchase appropriate insurance
policies. Your needs will vary depending on the type of business
you have, such as whether you have employees or not and the types
and locations of the windows you clean. For example, cleaning windows
on a high-rise building is inherently riskier than store-front cleaning,
and will require a different approach to managing that risk.Proper
coverage should do three things: insure your property, insure the
workers, and insure your business against liability in the most
cost-efficient manner possible.
Insure Your Property
Property includes everything from the buckets that hold water
to scaffolding and safety equipment. Your property should be insured
against theft and damage - even if you only have a few buckets and
some squeegees. If you have an office, you should insure its contents
as business property (files, copiers, computer, etc.) Make sure
you are covered wherever your equipment may be. According to Jeffrey
Rubin, of Kaye Insurance Group in New York, "Most homeowner policies
expressly exclude coverage for business property unless specifically
agreed to by the insurance company. In addition, even commercial
property policies designed for office equipment will not include
coverage for equipment on the job or in the van".
You also need to consider the amount for which your property is
insured. There are two types of coverage for property - actual cash
value or replacement cost. A replacement cost policy would pay you
whatever it costs to replace an insured item that gets damaged or
stolen. Actual cash value policies would only pay the original cost
minus depreciation. For example, a piece of equipment that cost
$100 to purchase 3 years ago might depreciate 20% each year. The
actual cash value, and the amount you would get if the equipment
is damaged, would be only $60 - and you would still have to pay
$100 or more to replace it.
The only property that is insured separately are vehicles. If
you are using your personal vehicle for the business, you may need
to change coverage to a commercial policy. Some of your larger customers
may even insist that your vehicle be listed on a certificate of
insurance, and personal auto policies can not generally be listed.
Insure Your Workers
Every state mandates that you carry Worker's Compensation insurance
if you have even one employee. This usually includes medical benefits,
lost wages, and death benefits. If you are a company owner, you'll
need to obtain your own life, health, and disability insurance.
As your business grows, your Worker's Compensation needs will change.
For example, if you exclusively clean store-front or residential
properties, you may be able to get a standard janitorial policy.
As soon as your workers are above ground, however, you've increased
the chances of injury from falling objects or from falls. A Worker's
Compensation policy will need to be reviewed and probably amended
as your business changes the type of buildings you service, or the
number of workers.
If you hire sub-contractors instead of employees, you are still
required to make sure that they are insured. You can do this by
asking the sub-contractor for a certificate of insurance. If they
are not insured, you may have to pay for their coverage on your
premium as if they were employees.
Insure Yourself Against Liability
Liability, according to the dictionary, is "the state of being
legally responsible". Liability insurance, then, is insurance that
protects you in case you are held legally responsible for either
bodily injury or property damage while in the course of performing
your job. For example, if you accidentally broke a vase while cleaning
near it, your liability insurance would pay for the replacement
of the vase. Although this sounds simple and straight-forward, there
are many areas of liability that you need to understand in order
to fully protect your business.
Limits and Deductibles
Liability policies all have a maximum amount that they will pay
out, and your premiums will increase as the limit rises. In addition,
you will have a deductible amount which will have to come out of
your pocket before the insurance company pays anything. The lower
the deductible, the higher your premium will be. To protect yourself
and your business, make sure that you can afford replacement of
any glass that you clean.
"Care, Custody, and Control" Clauses
Some insurance policies have exclusions for property in your "care,
custody, and control". This phrase means that if something happens
to someone else's property while you are working on it, the liability
insurance would not have to pay damages. This exclusion needs to
be taken out of your contract, even if it costs you a slightly higher
When you are ready to purchase insurance, you need to find an
insurance agent, understand your policy options, and ensure that
your policy covers the risks that you will be facing. "Many people
find out too late that they purchased inferior coverage from an
inferior insurance company, and end up responsible for judgments
that can bankrupt their company and themselves individually", says
Jeff Rubin. "Window cleaners should take full advantage of today's
affordable, comprehensive coverage programs."
Choosing an Agent
Insurance is a heavily regulated industry, and all insurance agencies
have to meet certain federal and state mandated standards. There
are two types of insurance agents: agents who represent a single
insurance company, and independent agents (sometimes called brokers)
who can choose from many insurance companies. When choosing an agent,
you should ask at least the following questions:
What is the company's Best's Rating? A.M. Best Company
evaluates and rates insurance companies every year. These ratings
are published in the "Best's Insurance Reports", available in your
public library. You want to work with a company rated "A" or "A+".
Do you insure other window cleaners? Window cleaning businesses
have unique needs. For example, there are risks associated with
working above the ground, and risks associated with working with
glass. You want to find an agent who understands all the aspects
of your business.
What is the Claim Process? Talk to your agent about how
the company handles claims that you might have to make. You want
to know whether the agent will handle the claims, or if they will
be routed through another office.
Choosing a Policy
As with any contract, it is important that you read and understand
every word of your insurance policy. If you don't understand something,
ask. If you don't get an explanation that you understand, you may
want to find another agent. If you see a portion of the policy that
you don't like, you can have it changed (although this will change
your costs). For example, you want to ensure that the care, custody
and control exclusion is removed, and that you understand other
exclusions, such as height restrictions or limitations on scaffold
The more that the insurance company knows about you and your business,
the more accurate and cost-effective your insurance will be. For
example, if you have a lot of experience, and can show a record
of safe, successful jobs, your agent will be able to negotiate a
better price for you. Other factors that you need to document are
the type of buildings you clean (high-rise or store front, residential
or commercial), safety equipment you use, and training you have
attended or conducted for your workers. You will need to show your
written safety and training program, and may want to bring along
any certificates of insurance that cover the product liability of
the equipment you use. "An agent needs to know how many stories
you'll be cleaning, estimated receipts, number of employees, and
the percentage of cleaning done on commercial buildings vs. residential"
according to Michelle J. Avila, of ISU Taurus Insurance Agency in
Depending on your individual situation, a group insurance plan
may cost less than obtaining insurance individually. For example,
the IWCA currently offers its members a group liability policy and
is in the process of developing an entire package of insurance offerings
for members, including Liability, Workman's Compensation, and Property.
This would provide coverage that is better tailored for our industry.
If you are a member of the IWCA, you can help with this project
by completing and returning the survey you received in the December
IWCS newsletter. "As soon as we get enough surveys," says Roy Hereth,
who is the Insurance Chairman for the IWCA, "we can get quotes and
start to offer a complete comprehensive insurance program." As with
any purchase, of course, you want to compare costs and coverages.
You may also want to check with other groups or associations to
see if they offer similar insurance discounts, or with your state
insurance board for local regulations.
Proposals and Insurance
Not only will insurance help you in case of damages, injuries,
or lawsuits, but it can also help you when you are writing proposals
or bidding on jobs. Some of the issues that may come up include:
Certificate of Insurance Your agent can provide you with
a "certificate of insurance" stating exactly what coverage you have.
You can show this certificate to potential customers - in fact,
some customers may insist on a certificate of insurance.
Insurance Limit Some building owners may require a specific
level of insurance, for example, $1,000,000 worth of liability,
before you can work on their building. Make sure that you know what
their requirement is before you submit a price to them because you
may need to increase your insurance limit which would increase your
base premium amount.
Named Insured Some larger buildings may want to be carried
on your insurance policy as "named insured". The insurance company
will add the building owner's name to your policy and may charge
a fee. Ask your agent about their policy on this, and make sure
that extra amount is covered by your bid.
Reducing Your Risks & Costs
You can reduce your risk of injury and accidents through safety
training and site safety procedures. Ideally, this will reduce the
number of accidents that occur, and thus the cost of your insurance
policy. "If you want reduced costs," says Gary Duckworth, an independent
agent broker, "you have to do something within your operation to
OSHA requires that all businesses have a written safety training
program. By creating and following such a program, you can reduce
accidents on the job site and reduce risk of damages. If you have
a formal safety training document, and can prove that you conduct
and attend regular training meetings, your agent will be able to
negotiate lower rates. According to Stefan Bright, safety director
of the IWCA, "There are now a lot of opportunities to get help creating
a Safety and Training program. The IWCA offers a safety training
session at their annual convention, and regional safety seminars
to provide members with the information they need."
There are now many types of safety equipment available, and many
ways to improve safety on your job site. You can reduce risk of
accidents by consistently following your safety training, and by
establishing procedures that prevent accidents. For larger jobs,
fall-arrest equipment is available in addition to suspension equipment.
There has also been a great improvement in safety awareness in the
past several years. "More and more buildings are actually installing
anchor points on the roof for maintenance workers to tie to." says
Stefan Bright. If the building where you are working has these anchor
points, it is less of a risk than a building without.
Site safety can have an impact on other types of jobs, too, such
as residential or store-front. "One preventive measure to take while
cleaning windows is to keep a "Caution Wet Floor" stand up sign
visible to passers-by and not leave equipment laying around" says
Michelle Avila. "This will help prevent slip-and-fall accidents,
and keep your rates down as well."
This is important: Another area of risk is in the equipment that
you use. Particularly with high-rise work, you want to purchase
the safest possible equipment. But sometimes equipment fails. If
you are using the equipment in the way in which it was intended,
the liability for damages could be the responsibility of the manufacturer
of the failed equipment. For example, if a bucket accidentally falls
and hits someone passing by, standard liability coverage applies.
However, if the bucket falls due to a piece of equipment that fails
(such as a ladder that breaks), the liability may pass to the ladder
manufacturer. If all of your equipment carries product liability
insurance, this will reduce your liability exposure.
How do you know which products have specific product liability
coverage? "The only way to know this is to check with the suppliers
or manufacturers and ask for a certificate of insurance that shows
coverage for that particular piece of equipment" according to Roy
Hereth, of Roy's Window Cleaning in Lincoln, NE. "You want the security
of knowing that if a product fails, the manufacturer has specific
product liability insurance to cover it." To ensure that products
you purchase are covered, always check for a certificate of insurance
on the equipment you buy. Similar to the certificate of insurance
your customers may request of you, this type of certificate proves
to you that the manufacturer has their own liability policy. You
can request a certificate of insurance from the supplier, or directly
from the manufacturer.
You should also be aware that there are two types of product liability
insurance, which will cover "per occurrence" and "claims made".
"Per-occurrence" policies will cover the product whenever the failure
may occur. "Claims made" coverage will only be in effect for a limited
time, such as a year or two. Again, check with the supplier, who
can get this information from the manufacturer.
Finally, you can reduce your costs by doing what you can to avoid
or minimize risky situations. In terms of liability, that might
mean not cleaning windows in high-rise buildings, or not using chemicals
that may damage glass. To reduce the risk of property damage, you
might put in a burglar system and dead-bolt locks. "Including a
dedicated safety and loss control program in operations of a construction
business is the best way to reduce risk."says Gary Duckworth. "You'll
pay less because the insurance company sees reduced risk. Good loss
control means fewer people hurt, less damage to property, and lower
premiums. It's a win-win situation."