Thirty years ago, when Andy Shavalia — owner of Superior Window Cleaning in Santa Clara — was learning the business, the sort of safety equipment that almost surely saved the lives of the window cleaners in New York was rarely used. Instead of the motorized scaffold-like devices that are used today, called a “swing stage,” window washers were lowered from the tops of skyscrapers on a small chair tied to pipes or air conditioning units. “That’s like rappelling down the side of a building,” Shavalia says. “I would say rope work is probably the hairiest situation you can be in when you first learn the trade.”

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