Volume 43, Issue 9 - September 2008

the Farnady Files

Working Without a Net
A Comment on Standards in the Skylight Industry
by Dez Farnady


The recent articles in this magazine with regard to the matter of skylight safety, and in particular the fall-through prevention issue (see May 2008 USGlass page 44, and August 2008 USGlass, page 20), requires a comment. I feel obligated to add a few items to the ones touched on in the article since I live with some of those issues every day.

First let me address a few related items. I believe that all roofs higher than eight feet above the ground should be equipped with fall prevention safety nets around the perimeter of the entire building. I have not seen data documenting the number of people that fall off roofs in a given year. My guess is that there are probably a good many roofers, construction people, wiseguy teenagers and an occasional drunk who fall or jump without a chute. Certainly, roofers should not be allowed to work without a net.

High-, mid- and even low-rise scaffolding should require safety nets surrounding the entire structure where a fall might be anticipated. Ladder manufacturers with ladders taller than three feet should be required to provide all ladders with attached perimeter safety nets so anyone falling off would land in the mesh.

And now that we are done with the ridiculous, letís get serious. I donít know to what extent the fall protection concerns are driven by frivolous lawsuits. But there is no doubt that in order to fall through a skylight someone usually has to get on the roof first. If they have no business there, what happened to contributory negligence? If they do have a reason to be there, they should be qualified and competent enough to avoid falling off the roof or falling through a skylight. Of course, accidents do happen, but we canít prevent car wrecks either.

Before I get too bitter about the entire matter, let me say that more and more skylights are being glazed with safety glass. While we donít advise it, we frequently have to climb onto the glass during installation. We protect our customers and ourselves by sizing the glass correctly, keeping opening sizes so the combination of the tempered and laminated sandwich is strong enough to prevent accidents. On larger openings the glass and laminate are modified to accommodate the added strength requirements. As a matter of company policy, on skylights for ground level light wells or adjacent to walking surfaces on roof decks, the laminated glass is heat-strengthened or tempered with a 0.06 vinyl that even satisfies UL 972 forced-entry specs.

There are hundreds of thousands of relatively inexpensive acrylic skylights in the 4- by 4-foot and 4- by 8-foot category on thousands of warehouses and commercial buildings all over the country. The cheap acrylic dome skylight has been the primary source of daylighting in these types of buildings for decades. Regrettably, age and ultraviolet (UV) rays eventually break down the acrylic, making it weak and brittle. However, falling through them still requires contributory negligence because they are not hidden traps but large, bulky and obvious obstructions. I find it very difficult to believe that the skylight causes the fall.

Forget the threat allegedly posed by the new skylights. More and more are glazed with strong, extruded twin-wall polycarbonates, reinforced fiberglass-type panels or laminated safety glass that will resist nearly anything. The growing paranoia about absurd legislation against skylights is making manufacturers conservative and cautious so skylights are stronger, better and safer than ever.

The existing technology that is now creating multi-layer polycarbonate and acrylic combinations can stop a bullet from a high-powered rifle. It should be able to come up with a strong plastic, maybe a laminated product that is economical, formable, UV stable and ďfall-resistant.Ē That is where the demand should be because more and more acrylic skylights are being pushed out of the market by new materials and the performance glass products that are too expensive for a warehouse. So if the acrylic manufacturers want to stay in the skylight business, they need to address those warehouse four-by-eights.

Bur if you really want to face the issue, think about the thousands of domes that are already out there and have been out there for decades. They are the real problem. How do we go back and find all the old skylights that are cracking, discoloring and slowly disintegrating? Sorry to say that I have no easy answers for you because first you have to find them all. Then the solution is in the hands of the landlords, building owners and developers who have to face replacements costs.


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