Glass Handling Safety
Handling glass requires the utmost care and attention to ensure the safety of workers and the quality of the final product
Safety by the Numbers
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, for glass and glazing contractors in 2020, there were 2.7 total recordable cases of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses per 100 workers. While this is higher than the injury and illness rate for all building construction workers—2.3 per 100 workers—it’s an improvement over the reported 2.9 incidents per 100 workers reported in 2018 and 3.7 cases reported in 2016.
For glass and glass product manufacturing workers in 2021, there were 3.5 total recordable cases of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses per 100 workers, and 3.2 total cases for flat glass manufacturing workers in the same year.
Workers in the glass industry, whether in the field or the factory, are exposed to various hazards common in many construction and manufacturing environments, including the usual slips, trips and falls, or injuries from moving objects. But workers in the glass industry have additional safety concerns, including safely handling large, awkward, heavy sheets of glass; for installers, working at heights while installing glass in skyscrapers or other tall buildings; cuts and lacerations from sharp edges of glass or the tools used; exposure to dust and flying particles from cutting, grinding, drilling and polishing glass as well as solvents in adhesives, sealants and etching chemicals; transporting increasingly larger and more complex glass for installations; and more.
Glass handling safety is paramount in ensuring the well-being of workers and the integrity of glass installations. With proper training, handling techniques, inspection, PPE, a well-organized work environment, and effective cleanup procedures, glaziers can significantly reduce the risk of accidents and deliver high-quality glass products to their clients. But all workers, whether they have been in the job for one day or many decades, must remember that when it comes to glass, safety should always come first.
“You may think you have handled glass a thousand times, but hazards are still there,” stresses William Davis with Vitro Architectural Glass. Davis presented a session on glass handling and processing in February at the Fenestration and Glazing Industry Alliance Annual Conference, and reminded participants not to become complacent about potential dangers. “You can get comfortable working with glass and that can make you forget hazards. Don’t get too comfortable.”
Handling glass requires the utmost care and attention to ensure the safety of workers and the quality of the final product. It’s crucial for companies, manufacturers and the workers themselves to make safety a top priority when working with glass. Regular safety training, adherence to guidelines and protocols, and a proactive approach to identifying and mitigating risks can help prevent accidents and injuries.
Before embarking on any glass-related task or project, glaziers and glass workers should undergo a comprehensive training program that includes classroom instruction, hands-on practice and mentorship for new hires. Training should cover three essential areas.
Glass properties. Teaching workers the different types of glass, such as tempered, laminated and float glass, is essential. They may have specific handling requirements. Knowing their strengths, weaknesses and how they break helps prevent accidents.
Equipment operation. Familiarize workers with the tools and machinery they’ll use, such as glass cutters, glass racks and suction cups.
Safe handling techniques. Teach proper lifting, carrying and installation methods. Workers should know how to distribute weight evenly and use mechanical aids when needed.
Never assume that a piece of glass is flawless. Practice quality control and thoroughly inspect it for scratches, cracks, chips, and other defects and imperfections beforehand to avoid breakage during handling. Even minor defects can compromise the structural integrity of the glass, weakening it and leading to unexpected breakage during installation.
While ensuring that the glass type and dimensions meet the specifications required for the project, examine the edges of the glass for smoothness and uniformity. Sharp edges or irregularities may pose safety hazards and require further processing.
Finally, discard damaged glass promptly and safely. Cut large pieces into smaller sections, especially long, narrow trim pieces, and carefully place them in hoppers for disposal.
Handling and storage
Handling glass correctly is fundamental to safety. Teamwork helps prevent accidents, and two or more people should work together to carefully lift and position larger or heavier glass sheets to distribute the weight and maintain stability.
Carry glass vertically whenever possible to minimize the risk of breakage. And for large or heavy glass sheets, use suction cups or appropriate lifting devices such as vacuum-lifting frames to create a seal, making it easier to lift and move glass panes.
Glass should always be handled carefully to avoid introducing new defects. Store it in a clean, safe and upright position to prevent damage.
Finally, when glass is handled manually, always wear appropriate cut-resistant gloves with a good grip to provide better control and reduce the risk of injury.
Personal protective equipment is the first line of defense and will help protect workers from cuts, lacerations and soft tissue puncture wounds caused from sharp or broken glass and cutting tools. Long sleeves and pants cover exposed skin to prevent cuts and abrasions. Closed-toe shoes or steel-toed boots with non-slip soles shield feet from heavy glass and tools and help to avoid slips and falls. Cut-resistant gloves prevent cuts and punctures while handling glass.
Safety glasses or goggles protect eyes from potential glass fragments or splinters and debris. And hard hats prevent head injuries from falling glass or tools.
“Glass-handling PPE, and wearing it correctly for maximum protection, is critical,” says Davis. The neck is a critical area with major blood vessels, and many glass incidents are fatal because the worker did not zipper their jacket or close the collar and was cut in the neck. “I see this violation a lot: unzipped jackets in hot plants,” he adds.
Keeping your workspace or work area clean and well-organized reduces hazards, minimizes the risk of accidents and promotes safety. Clear the work area of obstacles and clutter to prevent trips and falls. Provide above-adequate lighting to identify potential hazards, and for accurate glass inspection and precise cutting. Well-maintained, ergonomic tools and equipment for cutting, shaping and handling glass as well as sturdy workstations, shelves and designated storage racks for glass sheets help head off injuries. And ensure proper ventilation when working with glass cutting tools to avoid inhaling harmful dust and particles.
Be sure to label glass containers and storage areas to identify potential hazards and communicate potential risks to all personnel working with glass.
Finally, have a first aid kit readily available in case of injuries, and establish clear emergency procedures.
Breakage and cleanup
Despite all precautions, glass breakage can still occur. If glass breaks or shatters, cordon off and secure the area with warning signs or cones to prevent accidents. Wearing appropriate PPE (gloves and safety glasses), use a specialized vacuum cleaner designed for glass cleanup to collect all the broken glass fragments and dispose of them properly.
In the warehouse, while loading glass sheets onto vehicles, the load can fall sideways. The same risk applies to large and unsecured items falling while unloading. A single sheet of glass may not seem like much of a hazard, but when several sheets are stacked together their combined weight can cause serious injury or even death. Always properly secure glass during transportation to prevent shifting or breaking. Use protective materials such as padding, foam or crates to cushion and stabilize glass.
Racking is also very important, as bowing and venting will occur if the angle of lean in the sheet glass racks is too great from the vertical. Sheets will also be unstable and be pulled over if the angle is too small. Plants can prevent impact or crush injuries with proper glass handling. If using a cart or rack, ensure glass is secure to prevent it from falling, says Davis. Whenever possible, push carts rather than pull them. “This provides more balance, power and control.”
When automated glass handling equipment is available, it is best to use it, according to Davis. “Never try to adjust glass when it is being moved or processed by automated equipment. Use approved glass handling lifting equipment and other assets whenever provided.”
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