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April 2, 2015

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An enigma within UK safe glass policy

By James Allen, senior consultant at AITCo Consulting

Glass! Such change over a lifetime.

Window panes were once quite small and set higher. 2mm picture and 3mm greenhouse glass were in wide use.

Cometh float glass for better toughened and laminated material, cometh the revolution. Lighter and cheaper, a construction material made for cladding would now underpin architectural glazing technology.

Seamless glass now encases each office tower block. Inside, it drapes atria, staircases, balustrades and partitions. But recent events cry caution and highlight the fragile nature of glass, when blast can litter streets with broken shards.

What price personal safety in the new glass age? For a worker sitting next to a material posing high risk of impact danger?

Regulation is long in place. BS 6262:1982 Glazing for Buildings became the bible for glazing practice. It promoted personal safety. Since redrawn as BS 6262:2005 Part 4: Safety Related to Human Impact, and today, by European decree, British law.

The enigma within UK safe glass begins along a fault line in policy. The line between a building under construction and that same building during later use. Safe glass policy seeks to treat either entity similarly. But in a practical sense it really does differ. Trained trade professionals design and construct new build to a set standard. Yet rank amateurs answer at law when using the same premises and judging glass safety.

Control in new build is quite simple. Building Regulations, drawing upon BS6262:1982, now group safe glass issues under Approved Document K which require all panes in cited “critical” safety areas to comply from design inception, via construction to handover.

Another safeguard. A mark. Each pane within “critical areas” must show a visible and permanent mark. Not one half hidden behind the gasket or stamped on the glass surface hidden down deep behind the frame where no one can see it. Of huge legal significance. The mark states impact standard and pass grade. It names who assumes liability for that pane’s safety. Thus, legal indemnity is passed to users of that building. If the mark is actually there.

April 2015 CDM update will increase onus on professional designers to comply fully and ensure all glass being safe in law. Also lurking is corporate manslaughter. In short, to comply under new build is pretty straight forward – a simple safe glass template even exists for picking out the “critical areas”. And official checks are in place..

To comply within occupied buildings is more complex. Premises ought to pass to owners with all glass complying. Yet an owner, by configuring the space for his own use, can induce risk. Under Workplace Regulation, legal responsibility to comply falls upon individuals identified as being liable. Usually those with little actual knowledge.

Even the simple safe glass template used for new build can be disastrous if applied with little grasp of glazing law and of its practical onsite application. The Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) says so. It is possibly safer to ignore the siren call of a “free” glass risk assessment survey.

Regulations 14, 15 & 16: Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations 1992 (revised 2013) are quite vague and pose huge danger to the unwary. Onus for safe glass falls upon local managers, an invitation to agree that their glass complies. Being amateurs and held liable they might well turn to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) for advice.

It says read the regulations and apply them.

Here the enigma deepens. The HSE, a statutory body supervising workplace health and safe practice, investigates injury and abuse of regulation. Proactively, it gives advice upon wide ranges of safety topics across industry, trade and commerce. Except for glass in the workplace.

The HSE public website lists many product groups for assessment. Yet not for glass, a construction material known to pose a major potential hazard. And in ever wider use.

A coincidence that many health and safety consultants do not offer glass safety reviews to their clients? Why would they when a leading statutory body fails to offer practical guidance?

So much effort to regulate a product with much potential risk attached. Closely supervised in the professional new build sector, yet, in the actual workplace, it’s as though the Authorities await an incident to occur.

Would it be safer if those faced with legal liability and their advisers were better informed? And given genuine proactive support by the supervisory authorities?

James Allen is senior consultant at AITCo Consulting

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