Volume 47, Issue 4 - April 2012

deb@glass.com; twitter:@keycomm

The big news this month probably wasn’t all that big in the grand scheme of things, but it opened up old wounds and debates about safety glazing and the law. And it has the potential to change our codes again, so, hey, wait a minute, maybe this is one of those little things that is going to balloon into a way bigger other thing.
I am referring of course to the lawsuit filed by the 83-year-old Long Island woman against Apple, the computer behemoth, when she walked into a very clear glass wall at the Apple store in Manhasset, N.Y. (see related story on page 10).

Now, at first glance, you might say, “well, she’s 83 and things like this happen to golden-agers like her.” That might well be true, but have you been to an Apple store lately? I have gotten to visit a number of them and, I’ll tell you that in general, all the customers are either extremely young or extremely old.

Having all glass is not a problem, but not being able to tell it’s all glass is. Our industry has been through a variation of this debate in the early 1980s. Long before the laws or codes addressed them, sliding glass doors and window walls were not always made up of safety glazing. And people walked through them and got injured; some even died. So in the late 1970s, the government stepped in and, through the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), safety glazing regulations were born.

The regulations required safety glazing in doors and sidelites. As a result, injuries from impact with said doors and sidelites were reduced greatly. But the glass industry always resented being regulated by the government in this way. The government, in turn, had little ability to police or enforce the regulations. A number of years later, a compromise was reached that got CPSC out of the safety glazing business and moved the development and enforcement of safety glazing to the building codes, where many thought they had belonged all along.

The codes today include not just doors, but other hazardous locations. So injuries from impacting and going through glass have been reduced, for sure, but now we have some new problems.

There’s been a great increase in the number of floor-to-ceiling glass walls used both in commercial and residential applications. They are designed to look like they are not there and that’s the problem. People who walk into them don’t go through them; they bounce off them. The world also is very different now than it was when the safety glazing laws were first promulgated. The newer “clear, clear” glasses have all but eliminated any green or other tint making it more difficult to discern open space from glass.

Think only an idiot or someone with really bad eyesight would do that? Though you could argue I am both on occasion, I still notice glass. That’s why I stopped and carefully checked out an opening at the Texas de Brazil restaurant in Memphis, Tenn., last September. I looked for channels or anything that looked like it might be glass. Certain that it was instead an opening to the outdoors, I proceeded to walk into the wall of glass, nose first. Sure, I bounced off it, but it hurt. Actually, my pride hurt a whole lot more than my nose as the irony of the situation was not lost on me.

Anyway, the case makes us look again at what really constitutes a hazardous location. Including stickers or other warnings on such walls would totally negate the look that designers like Apple seek. But I sure hope it doesn’t take some little 4-year-old bouncing off a glass wall and into a deep coma to get us all to look at this issue. We have found time and time again (think glass furniture, think balconies) that avoiding a topic never, ever makes it go away and many times it makes it worse.


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